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Crown Svo, cloth ^ copiously szipplied with Maps and 
Plans. Price ^s. net each. 

I. SAARBRUCK to PARIS : The Franco- 
German War. By Col. Sisson C. Pratt, 
late R.A. 

Major F. Maurice. 


WAR, 1862, By Major G. W. Redvvay. 

SOLFERINO, 1859. By Col. H. C. Wyllv, C.B. 

Sisson C. Pratt, late R.A. 

By Lt.-Col. G. J. R. Glunicke. 


Col. F. N. Maude, C.B., late R.E. 

1864 (The Wilderness Campaign). By Capt. 
Vaughan Sawyer, Indian Army. 

F. N. Maude, C.B., late R.E. 

Capt. F. R. Sedgwick, R.F.A. 

(Bull Run to Malvern Hill). By Major G. W, 

Maude, C.B., late R.E. 


(Chancellorsville and Gettysburg). By Col. 
P. H. Dalbiac, C.B. 


(Cedar Run, Manassas, and Sharpsburg). By 

E. W. Sheppard. 


1796-1797 and 1800. By Lt.-Col. R. G. Burton. 


1904-1905. Double Volume, los. net. By Capt. 

F. R. Sedgwick, R.A. 


By Lieut.-Colonel R. G Burton, Indian Army. 

PAIGNS. By Captain F. W. O. Maycock, D.S.O. 


No. 19 




Indian Army 




"Lesgrandes entreprises lointaines perissent par la 

grandeur meme des preparatifs qu'on fait pour en 

assurer la reussite." 







,' ^ 





While the great tragedy of 1812 must ever excite the 
interest and wonder of mankind, like all the deeds of its 
mighty actor, the lessons to be derived from it are its 
most important if not its most attractive feature. We 
may point to the vanity of human greatness, here shown 
in its decHne, and the limitations imposed by adverse 
circumstance on genius even in its most exalted mani- 
festation. We may indicate the futihty of undertaking 
a great enterprise with inadequate means, without the 
power and perhaps even the will to carry it to a successful 
conclusion ; and the limits that are fixed to human 
ambition as much by the forces of nature as by the 
hostility of man. Napoleon, the embodiment of in- 
tellectual force, the incarnation of mental and physical 
energy, contrived for a time to control the conditions he 
created in Europe. He rode the whirlwind by virtue of 
character, of personahty, of intelligence, and of imagina- 
tion which made up the sum of his genius. But in course 
of time he created forces, not only in his enemies but 
in himself, which ranged beyond the power of control. 
There arose in him an almost blasphemous self-confidence 
a belief in his " star " that led him to neglect the elements 



necessary to success, which may be illustrated by his 
own saying : " It is a proof of the weakness of human 
nature that men imagine that they can oppose me." 
Well might Goethe say of him : " He lives entirely in 
the ideal but can never consciously grasp it." 

The military lessons of the Russian campaign are 
numerous. In its general features, in the grandeur of 
its conception, and in some respects in its execution, as 
well as in its abysmal end, this gigantic invasion was 
splendid and awe-inspiring. Who can contemplate un- 
moved the sublime spectacle of that mighty human 
stream pouring across Europe into Russia, fighting its 
way to Moscow, and its shattered remnants struggling 
back across the Berezina, in whose icy flood so many 
thousand lives were quenched in circumstances of tragic 
horror. The dramatic figure of the Great Emperor, 
standing in the snow during the retreat, dominating the 
situation by the mere terror of his personaHty, will stand 
out for ever on the page of history. The fortitude in the 
retreat of Ney, that warrior of transcendent courage, 
who, asked where was the rearguard, replied in all truth, 
*' I am the rearguard " ; and in response to a summons 
to surrender, " A Marshal of France never surrenders ! " 
furnishes one of the finest episodes of this dramatic epoch. 

As regards the fundamental causes of failure, specula- 
tion leads us to inquire into the personal attributes of the 
greatest soldier of all history. There appears to be no 


doubt that at this time, although Napoleon's intellect 
retained all its sharpness and his vision all its clearness, 
his physical nature had begun to decline. Already in his 
forty-third year he had lost in physical and mental 
vigour, and in decision and boldness of execution. The 
first failure of his plans — the escape of Bagration — would 
have been averted had Napoleon been the general of 1805. 
But he contented himself with sitting in his study at 
Vilna, and issuing orders which were sound in project but 
faulty in execution. Nor do we find him dominating the 
battlefield at Borodino as he did at Rivoh, at Austerlitz, 
and at Jena. 

But in spite of failure, when all has been considered, 
the campaign of 1812 will remain for all time one of the 
most wonderful episodes in the history of the world, 
sufl&cient of itself to secure eternal fame to the Man of 
whom it has been said by Napier : 

" To have struggled with hope under such astounding 
difficulties was scarcely to be expected from the greatest 
minds. But like the emperor to calculate and combine 
the most stupendous efiorts with calmness and accuracy ; 
to seize every favourable chance with unerring rapidity ; 
to sustain every reverse with undisturbed constancy, 
never urged to rashness by despair yet enterprising to the 
utmost verge of daring consistent with reason, was a 
display of intellectual greatness so surpassing, that it is 
not without justice Napoleon has been called, in reference 


as well to past ages as to the present, the foremost of 

The author is greatly indebted to General Bogdano- 
vich's history of the war, pubhshed in St Petersburg in 
1 859 . The accuracy of Bogdanovich's narrative has been 
tested by reference to the correspondence of Napoleon. 

Among other works to which reference has been made 
may be mentioned those of De Segur, Marbot, Labaume, 
Chambray, Fezensac, Jomini, Buturhn and Mikhailovski- 
Danilevski. The author has also had the advantage of 
traversing the route taken by the Grand Army in the 
advance to Moscow. 



The Causes of War 


Maritime Equilibrium — The Ambition of Napoleon — 
Sea Power — The Berlin Decree — Napoleon and 
Poland — Policy of Annexation — Controversy 
with Russia ..... 1 


Preparations for War 

Napoleon's Preparations — Formation of the Grand 
Army — Davout's Corps — Organisation of 
Armies — Supplies — Transport — Bridging 
Materials — Further Organisation — Intelligence 
— Preparations of the Tzar — Russian Plans — 
Napoleon's Plan — Napoleon at Dresden . 7 


The Opposing Forces 

The Grand Army — Character of the Army — 
Davout's Corps — The French Leaders — The 
Russian Armies — Character of the Russian 
Army — System of Enlistment — Martial 
Qualities — Russian Cavalry — Artil lery — The 
Cossacks — Russian Officers — Staff — Administra- 
tion — Russian Commanders — Positions of 
Opposing Armies - . . . .17 





The Theatre of War 41 


The Invasion of Lithuania 

General Distribution — Russians — French — Napoleon 
on the Niemen — Forward Movement — Passage of 
the River — Napoleon's Plan — Further Advance 
The Russians surprised — General Russian 
Retreat — French Advance — Napoleon's Disposi- 
tions — Movements of the King of Westphalia — 
Bagration's Retreat — Pursuit of Bagration — 
Weather Conditions — Difficulties of Supply 
and Transport — Comments . . .48 


The Advance to the Dwina 

Napoleon's Plan — The Russians at Drissa — Oudinot's 
Advance — Macdonald's Movements — Napoleon 
leaves Vilna — The Movement towards Vitebsk — 
Action at Ostrovno — Napoleon at Ostrovno — 
Operations at Vitebsk — Forward Movement — 
Operations against Bagration — Oudinot and 
Wittgenstein — Movements of Schwarzenberg — 
Comments . . . . .63 

From the Dwina to the Dnieper 

Napoleon at Vitebsk — Distribution of the French 
Forces — Russians assume the Offensive — Skir- 
mish at Inkovo — French Dispositions — Russian 
Movements — Napoleon's Advance — Passage of 
the Dnieper — Cavalry Action at Krasnoi — 
Russian Dispositions — Comments . . 80 



The Battle op Smolensk 


Smolensk — Eaevski's defensive Measures — Napoleon 
arrives before Smolensk — French Dispositions — 
Russian Plans — Bagration's Retreat — Attack on 
Smolensk — Russian Retirement — Napoleon 
enters Smolensk — Barclay's Retreat continued 
— Action at Lubino — Comments — The Decision 
to advance on Moscow . . . .91 


The Advance to Borodino 

Russian Desire for Battle — French Pursuit — 
Napoleon leaves Smolensk — Measures in Rear — 
Russian Retreat continued — Kutuzov assumes 
Command — Action at Shivardino — Position of 
Borodino — Occupation of the Position — The 
Opposing Forces — French Dispositions — 
Napoleon's Orders .... 108 


The Battle op Borodino 

Napoleon at Shivardino — Attack on the Russian 
Left — Eugene takes Borodino — Renewed Attack 
on Russian Left — Ney assaults the Left — 
Russians retake the Redoubts — Poniatovski's 
Advance — The Battle at Semyonovskaya — 
French capture the Left Redoubts — Murat's 
Cavalry Charge — Capture of Semyonovskaya — 
Poniatovski at Utitza — The Battle in the Centre 
— Reinforcement of the Russian Left — Uvarov's 
Cavalry Charge — Renewed Attack on the Centre 
— Capture of Raevski's Battery — The Battle 
ends — Russian Position — Comments . .124: 




The Occupation of Moscow 

Russian Retreat — The Russians abandon Moscow — ■ 
Napoleon enters Moscow — The Burning of the 
City — Russian March to Podolsk — Pursuit by 
French Advanced Guard — French Movements 
— Napoleon proposes Peace — Measures for the 
Future — Napoleon's Appreciation of the Situa- 
tion — The Question of Retreat — Action at 
Vinkovo — Evacuation of Moscow — Operations 
on the Dwina — Events in Volhynia . . 143 


From Moscow to Maloyaroslavetz 

March of the Grand Army — Kutuzov leaves Tarutino 
— Maloyaroslavetz — Advance or Retreat ? — 
Retreat — Comments .... 169 


The Retreat to Smolensk 

The March to Vyazma — Russian Movements — 
Napoleon at Vyazma — News from the Wings- 
Napoleon's Measures — Retreat continued — 
Kutuzov's Pursuit — Battle of Vyazma — Diffi- 
culties of the March — Kutuzov's Plans — Retreat 
to Smolensk — Ney's Rearguard — The Passage of 
the Vop — Russian Operations . . . 177 


From Smolensk to Borisov 

Retreat from Smolensk — Arrival at Krasnoi — • 
Napoleon's Resolution — Battle of Krasnoi — • 
Ney's Rearguard — From Krasnoi to Borisov 
— Action at Borisov — Chichagov's Movements 
— Disposition of Opposing Forces . . 192 



The Passage of the Berezina 


The Point of Passage — Construction of Bridges — 
26th November — 27th November — Capture of 
a French Division — Passage continued — Battle 
of the Berezina — Repulse of Russians on both 
Banks — Comments — Napoleon on the Berezina 205 


From the Berezina to the Niemen 

Retreat from the Berezina — Napoleon leaves the 
Army — The Army reaches Vilna — Passage of 
the Niemen — Ney's Last Stand — Macdonald's 
Retreat — Schwarzenberg's Retirement . .219 

The Causes of Failure 225 


1. Map of tlie Theatre of Operations. 

2. Map to illustrate the Operations round Smolensk. 

3. Plan of Smolensk and its Environs. 

4. The Battle of Borodino. 

5. From Moscow to Smolensk. 

6. The Passage of the Berezina. 





Maritime Equilibrium — The Ambition of Napoleon — Sea Power 
— The Berlin Decree — Napoleon and Poland — Policy of 
Annexation — Controversy with Russia 

Maritime equilibrium is no less a part of the balance of 
power than Continental equilibrium. This truth, recog- 
Maritime nised by Napoleon, but ignored by other 
Equilibrium Powers on the Continent during the struggles 
of the Napoleonic epoch, was at the base of the causes 
which led up to the invasion of Russia ; it was the funda- 
mental reason of the prolonged contest between England 
and France ; and it is the prime factor in world-politics 

Thus, although Napoleon had made himself master 
in continental Europe, his power was insecure so long 
as English ships could sail the seas unchallenged, and 
stand between him and the dominion of the world. 
And war with Russia arose in the first instance from 

A I 


the establishment of his " continental system," by 

which he hoped to destroy the maritime supremacy 

of England. 

While this and other factors contributed to annul the 

Peace of Tilsit, the immediate cause of hostilities lay in 

T-i. A I.- the ambition of the Man whose war eagles 
The Ambi- * 

tion of were carried from Madrid to Moscow, and who 

occupied in turn the most important capitals 
of Europe. In all probability he looked beyond Russia 
into Asia, for even after his expedition to Egypt the 
glamour of the East had always attracted him, since the 
days when he said : " My glory is already at an end ; 
there is not enough of it in this little Europe. I must 
go to the East ; all great glory comes from there." This 
predilection for Oriental conquest cropped up continually 
throughout his career. It was the motive of his treaty 
with the Shah of Persia in 1807. It was discussed at 
Tilsit with the Tzar Alexander in 1808. An expedition 
to Egypt was to sail from Corfu, while the united armies 
of Russia, France and Austria were to march on India. 
In the same year he instructed his librarian to " collect 
memoirs about the campaigns which have taken place on 
the Euphrates and against the Parthians, beginning with 
that of Crassus down to the eighth century ... to mark 
on maps the route which each army followed." Again 
in 1811 we find him considering expeditions against Egypt 
and Ireland. If these succeeded, he would extend his 


Empire far to the East and West. " They wish to know 
where we are going, where I shall plant the new ' Pillars 
of Hercules.' We will make an end of Europe, and then 
as robbers throw themselves on others less bold, we will 
cast ourselves on India, which the latter class have 
mastered." " Three years more," he exclaimed to the 
Bavarian Minister, " and I am Lord of the Universe." 
So it is quite probable that he looked on his expedition 
to Russia as a prelude to conquests farther East. Nor 
can we say that Jomini was without reason in accusing 
the English of "declaiming ceaselessly against the 
insatiable ambition of the French Government, while 
obtaining possession without plausible motive of an 
empire of a hundred million human beings in Asia." 
While Austerlitz, Jena and Tilsit made Napoleon 
supreme on the continent of Europe, the battle of 
Trafalgar gave England maritime supremacy 
throughout the world. If the balance of 
power was upset in Europe, it was no less destroyed on 
the sea, where England was rendered immune from the 
attacks of the conqueror. Seeing the hopelessness of 
reducing England by force of arms. Napoleon attempted 
to wreck her commerce by a decree. The English 
Government had issued an Order in Council declaring the 
coast of France from Anvers to Havre to be in a state of 
Napoleon, in retaliation, by the famous decree of 


Berlin of 21st November 1806, instituted his " continental 
system," according to which not only was England de- 
The Berlin glared in a state of blockade, but all commerce 
Decree ^^^^ ^dl relations with Great Britain were 

forbidden in countries occupied by the French armies 
and their allies, and all merchandise and manufactures 
of Great Britain and her colonies were declared con- 
fiscated. In addition, all Continental ports were to be 
closed to English shipping. 

Kussia, detached from England at the Treaty of Tilsit, 
which followed on the Friedland Campaign, became a 
subscriber to this system, while the Tzar succumbed to 
the genius and the personality of Napoleon. 

In the rearrangement of Europe which followed on the 
Jena Campaign and the meeting at Tilsit, the Grand 
Napoleon Duchy of Warsaw was created out of the 
and Poland Polish provinces torn from Prussia. To set 
up a kingdom of Poland would be an ofience to the Tzar, 
and Napoleon agreed that he would never establish such 
a kingdom, and would not further enlarge the duchy. 
Having settled with Russia, he turned to Spain and 
Portugal, from which his attention was again diverted 
by fresh hostilities with Austria. There followed the 
Peace of Vienna after the events of Ratisbon, Aspern 
and Wagram. One of the clauses of the new treaty 
provided for the cession of half of Galicia to the Duchy of 
Warsaw, which was thus elevated into the dimensions of 


a small kingdom. This measure, in direct contravention 
to the engagements made at Tilsit, alarmed the Tzar of 
Russia, who remonstrated in vain with Caulaincourt, 
the French Ambassador. 

It was now clear that Napoleon aspired to universal 
Empire. He espoused the daughter of the Austrian 
Policy of Emperor, after a union with the Russian 
Annexation Q-rand Duchess Anne had been considered. 
In the same year, 1810, he issued decrees annexing Rome, 
Holland, and the German coast to Hamburg and Lubeck 
on the Baltic, which involved the expulsion of the Duke 
of Oldenburg, brother-in-law of the Tzar, whose dignity- 
was thus further ofiended. 

A long diplomatic correspondence followed, accom- 
panied by mutual complaints and recriminations. The 
Controversy ^^^^ complained of the aggrandisement of 
with Russia j^^^q Duchy of Warsaw in contravention of the 
Articles of Tilsit, the treatment of the Duke of Oldenburg 
and the annexation of North Germany to the French 
Empire. Napoleon taxed him in return with failure to 
observe the Continental system. But these negotiations 
only prolonged the period of preparation for war. While 
the Tzar cannot be exonerated from all blame for the 
rupture of peace, it was manifest that Napoleon desired 
war. He could count on the support of Austria. He 
proposed, in order to gain over the Poles, to re-establish 
the kingdom of Poland at the expense of Russia, who had 


absorbed the greater part of lier territory. He was in a 
position to coerce Prussia. He hoped to obtain the co- 
operation or at least the neutrality of Sweden, which was 
ruled by Bernadotte, a former marshal of France, and 
thus secure the left flank of his advance ; while on the 
right Russia was engaged on the Danube in war with 
Turkey, the continuance of which might be ensured by 
wise diplomacy. 



Napoleon's Preparations — Formation of the Grand Army — 
Davout's Corps — Organisation of Armies — Supplies — 
Transport — Bridging Materials — Further Organisation 
— Intelligence — Preparations of the Tzar — Russian Plans — 
Napoleon's Plan — Napoleon at Dresden 

Napoleon's preparations for war with Russia began with 

the calling out for service in December 1810 of the 

.^ , , conscripts of 1811, to the number of 80,000 
Napoleon s r ' ' 

Prepara- men. The Emperor next undertook the forti- 
fication of Dantzig and the strengthening of 
its garrison. At the end of June 1811 Davout's corps 
of observation on the Elbe, having headquarters at 
Hamburg, was strengthened to over 51,000 men ; in 
July the cavalry was reorganised and a regiment of 
Polish lancers was raised at Warsaw. By August Davout 
had 70,000 men; the Saxon corps, 22,000; and the 
troops of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw numbered 60,000. 
In October the number of French troops in Northern 
Germany, together with the garrisons of the fortresses 
on the Oder, reached nearly 90,000 men. There were 
in addition 24,000 men in camp at Utrecht, of whom 


20,000 were sent to reinforce Davout, and tlie garrison 

of Dantzig numbered over 17,000. This raised the 

strength of the French troops in North Germany to 

_ ^. 130,000, who could in a short time be 
Formation ^ ' ' 

of the Grand reinforced by over 100,000 men from the 
Confederation of the Rhine. By the end of 
1811 Napoleon had available to deal with Russia 
240,000 men, exclusive of the garrisons of Stettin 
and Glogau, 20,000. In December a decree was issued 
for 120,000 conscripts for the army and 12,000 for the 

The artillery parks, which had been at Augsburg and 
Ulm since the war with Austria in 1809, were transferred 
to Dantzig and the fortresses on the Oder, where there 
were French garrisons. Already in the spring of 1811 
60,000 small arms and a considerable number of guns 
had been despatched to Warsaw. 

The foundation of the Grand Army for the invasion 
of Russia was formed by Davout's corps, which was a 
Davout's model of organisation and administration. 
Corps When Napoleon informed the Marshal that 

he would have to operate in a desolate country, in all 
probability laid waste by the enemy, and must be ready 
to maintain his army corps, that experienced warrior 
replied with an enumeration of all his preparations. His 
70,000 men were provided with supplies for twenty-five 
days. Each company included swimmers, masons, 


bakers, tailors, shoemakers, gunsmiths, in fact artificers 
of every description. They carried everything with them ; 
his army was like a colony. Every want had been fore- 
seen, and the means of supplying it prepared, even down 
to handmills for grinding corn. 

Napoleon, finding the annual conscription insufficient 
to fill the ranks of his armies, took measures to collect 
the conscripts of previous years who had evaded service, 
some 60,000 in number. Movable columns were formed 
for this purpose and many thousands added to the army 
in a short time. 

While negotiations with the Tzar were prolonged, the 

army of the Rhine was formed in rear of Davout's corps 

_ . of observation, destined to be placed under 
Organisa- ^ 

tion of command of Ney, recalled from Spain, and 

Oudinot. The Viceroy, Prince Eugene in 
Italy, Prince Poniatovski in the Grand Duchy of 
Warsaw, the King of Saxony and other princes 
of the Confederation of the Rhine were directed to 
keep their troops in readiness. Napoleon paid no less 
attention to the organisation of supplies, which pre- 
sented great difficulties. He intended to collect in 
Dantzig a year's supply for 400,000 or 500,000 men. 

For this purpose General Rapp was ordered 
Supplies 11 • r 1 J T 

to see to the collection oi wheat, and, as 

soon as war became inevitable, vast quantities of oats 

and all the hay obtainable were purchased. Dantzig, 


Magdeburg and Maintz were chosen for the storage of 

these supplies. 

Thus Napoleon succeeded in collecting vast stores of 

provisions and forage at a point near the prospective 

theatre of operations ; but he had a still greater difficulty 

to contend with — the provision of means for the transport 

of these supplies with the army. There were eight 

^ transport battalions of some 1500 biscuit 


waggons, drawn by four horses and requiring 

two drivers each, carrying three days' supplies for each 
battalion. Light one-horse carts, known as chars h la comp- 
toise, carrying one day's supply, and bullock waggons, 
were obtained and organised into four battalions of one- 
horse carts and five battalions of ox waggons ; the former 
were formed in Franche Compte, the latter in Lombardy, 
Germany and Poland. The advantage of the one-horse 
carts consisted in their lightness and in their requiring 
only one driver for several horses, which were accustomed 
to follow one another ; while the ox waggons could 
move over the worst roads and the oxen required little 
attention and would serve for food in case of scarcity. 
These seventeen battalions, with 5000 or 6000 carts, 
were sufficient for the transport of two months' supply 
of food for 200,000 men. The Emperor calculated that 
these supplies would suffice, for the troops would subsist 
on the provisions collected at Dantzig and other places 
as far as the Niemen. Having arrived on the Niemen 


with 500,000 or 600,000 men, lie would lead not more 
than 300,000 into the interior of Kussia, and would then 
be able to feed his army, having with him forty days' 
supplies and utilising the resources of the country. 

But 5000 or 6000 carts required 8000 or 10,000 drivers, 
and 18,000 or 20,000 horses and oxen ; and adding to 
this more than 100,000 horses for the cavalry and artillery 
it will be understood how difficult it was to feed such a 
multitude of animals. Napoleon hoped to accomplish 
this by deferring the opening of the campaign until the 
appearance of grazing. 

As the supply of the troops with bread instead of 
biscuit presents more difficulty in the grinding of the 
grain into flour than in the baking of bread. Napoleon 
directed a great part of the grain in Dantzig to be ground, 
while stones were obtained for the construction of ovens. 

The pontoon parks were improved during the second 
year of preparation for war. Napoleon ordered two 
Bridging parks, of 100 pontoons each, to be pre- 
Materiais pared in Dantzig. As wood for the con- 
struction of bridges could be found everywhere in the 
theatre of operations, while it would be much more diffi- 
cult to obtain the necessary iron, cables, anchors and 
other materials were provided. For the carriage of all 
this material carts drawn by 2000 horses were provided. 
" With such means," wrote Napoleon, " we shall over- 
come all obstacles." 


In the meantime the French troops of Davout, Oudinot 
and Ney, and the allied forces of the Confederation of the 
Further ^^^^^ and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw were 

Organisa- organised and supplied with everythinsr 

tion p 1 . T ^ o 

necessary tor their arduous march; and 

Napoleon directed Prince Eugene with the Italian army 
to prepare for the passage of the Alps. Counting on the 
friendship of Austria, he transferred to Lombardy almost 
all the troops remaining in Illyria and the kingdom of 
Naples. Three battalions were chosen from each of the 
best regiments, and an army of 40,000 French troops was 
thus formed, which, reinforced by 20,000 Italians, was de- 
tailed for the march to Russia. The remaining (4th and 
5th) battalions of regiments, together with some whole 
regiments and Murat's Neapolitan army, were left for 
the defence of Italy. In addition a reserve army was 
formed from some Italian and Illyrian regiments, to 
replace the Imperial Guard and Polish troops which were 
to march to Russia. Among other war preparations was 
the organisation of 214 companies of Custom's Coast- 
guards, which were to replace the troops guarding the 
coasts of France. 

Preparing for an expedition to a little-known country, 

Napoleon made every effort to obtain all possible inf orma- 

tion about Russia, and directed the printing 

of a map of a hundred sheets of the western 

regions of Russia, with a translation of the names of places 


into Frencli ; this map was distributed to many of his 
generals. French agents in Russia, among them Prevost, 
Secretary of the Embassy, were directed to collect detailed 
statistical information regarding the Governments of 
Estland, Lithuania, Courland, Pskov, Vitebsk, Mohilev, 
Minsk, Vilna, Grodno, Bielostok, Volhynia, Kiev, Podolsk 
and Kherson. 

His care in obtaining information about the theatre 
of operations is noteworthy and instructive. Thus his 
private secretary writes to the librarian : "I request 
M. Barbier to send me for his Majesty a few good books, 
most suitable for studying the nature of the soil of Russia, 
and especially of Lithuania, with respect to its marshes, 
rivers, forests and roads. His Majesty also desires to 
obtain works that treat most minutely of Charles XII. 's 
campaign in Poland and Russia." And again, " The Em- 
peror requires a history of Courland, as well as all that 
can be obtained as to the history, geography and topo- 
graphy of Riga, Livonia," etc. 

These measures of preparation for war, presenting us 
with a spectacle of the marvellous organising powers of 
Napoleon, are scarcely less remarkable and instructive 
than his strategical conceptions. 

The Tzar Alexander's preparations began as soon as 
Prepara- the designs of Napoleon became apparent, 
Tzar but his measures were delayed by the war 

with Turkey, which had been in progress several years. 


These preparations included the reconnaissance of the 
prospective theatre of war ; the strengthening of im- 
portant points ; the completion of the military establish- 
ment, and organisation of the reserves ; the establish- 
ment of depots, magazines, hospitals and parks on a war 
scale. Riga, Bobruisk and Kiev were to be strengthened ; 
Dinaburg and Sebezh, where it was intended to collect 
large supplies of provisions and forage, were to be fortified ; 
fortified camps were established on the Dvina at Drissa 
and on the Dnieper at Kiev, and a bridge-head on the 
Berezina at Borisov. The greater part of these works, the 
fortification of Mosta on the Niemen and the construction 
of a tete de pont at Seltza on the Yasiold, for the improve- 
ment of the communications between the different parts 
of the army, were still in progress in the spring of 1812. 
But there was not time to complete all the proposed works. 

During the period under review considerable additions 
had been made to the strength of the Russian army. 
Fresh units had been added to all arms, to the number of 
74 battalions, 11 squadrons, 3 companies of artillery ; this 
increase involved an augmentation of 20,000 men. The 
strength of the army at the beginning of 1812 amounted 
to 420,000 men and 1552 guns, organised as follows : — 

Infantry 514 battalions 

Cavalry 410 squadrons 

Artillery 159 companies 

Engineers 6 battalions 


By June 1812 the strength was increased to 480,000 
men and 1600 guns. A great part of the Russian army- 
was scattered on the confines of the Empire when 
Napoleon was ready for the invasion. But the subse- 
quent conclusion of peace with Turkey and of a treaty of 
alliance with Sweden, whereby considerable forces were 
set free to act against the invaders, must be counted 
among the most important of the Tzar's measures of 

It will be seen that the course of the operations rendered 
many of the Russian magazines useless, and proved the 
futility of the selection of Drissa as a base for the Army 
of the West. Jomini tells us that there was a great 
divergence of opinion among the Russian generals. This, 
continuing throughout the campaign, led to disputes and 
recriminations which could not but react unfavourably 
on the conduct of the operations. Bagration was in 
Russian favour of taking the offensive, invading the 
Plans Duchy of Warsaw, and disputing the country 

between the Vistula and the Niemen. Barclay wished 
to await the enemy on the Niemen ; the Prussian Stafi 
Officer Pfuhl, who had much influence in the Russian 
councils, had persuaded the Tzar Alexander to construct 
a vast fortified camp at Drissa, on the road to St Peters- 
burg, to which the main army was to retire and await 
Napoleon's decisive attack. With regard to this plan, 
we may quote Napoleon's dictum that " an army 


which remains behind its entrenchments is already 

Even in those days the Press showed indiscretion in 
the publication of military details. Thus in the middle 
of June The German Gazette at St Petersburg published 
in detail the situation of all the Russian troops on the 
frontier from the Baltic to Slonim. 

Napoleon, apparently aware of these dispositions, 
resolved to pass the Niemen at the salient point of 
Napoloen's Kovno, which was convenient for his project 
Plan Qf piercing the Russian centre, and then 

defeat their separated forces in succession. 

On the 9th May Napoleon left St Cloud for Dresden, 
where he arrived on the 16th. Here he held court such 
Napoleon at ^^ ^^^ ^^^ hQ&d seen since the Middle Ages, 
Dresden attended by the kings and princes of Germany, 
who were made to feel his power and his superiority. A 
succession of splendid fetes, concerts, and performances 
at the theatre, for which the elite of the actors of Paris 
had been brought to Dresden, formed a prelude to the 
great tragedy on which the curtain was about to rise. 
While at Dresden Napoleon heard of the Tzar's arrival 
at Vilna, and sent an envoy to make final overtures to 
Alexander. His messenger returned on the 28th May. 
His overtures were without result ; and on the 29th May 
1812 Napoleon left Dresden for the front. 



The Grand Army — Character of the Army — Davout's Corps — 
The French Leaders — The Russian Armies — Character of 
the Russian Army — System of Enlistment — Martial 
Qualities — Russian Cavalry — Artillery — The Cossacks — 
Russian Officers — StaS — Administration — Russian Com- 
manders — Position of Opposing Forces 

The army of invasion was organised as follows : — 

The Grand The Grand Army. The Emperor Napoleon 
Army Chief of the Staff— Berthier 

The Guards. 

Old Guard Marshal Lefebvre 10 battalions 

Young Guard Marshal Mortier 32 battalions 

Legion of the Vistula 12 battalions 

Cavalry Marshal Bessi^res 35 squadrons 

Eeserve Artillery Count Corbier 

I. Corps. 

Marshal Davout, 88 battalions, 16 squadrons 


17 battalions 


17 „ 


18 „ 


13 „ 


23 „ 


16 squadrons 



II. Corps. 

Marshal Oudinot, 51 battalions, 20 squadrons 
Legrand 17 battalions 
Verdier 15 ,, 

Merle 19 „ 

Corbinot 20 squadrons 

III. Corps. 

Marshal Ney, 48 battalions, 24 squadrons 
Ledru 17 battalions 

Eazout 17 ,, 

Marchand 14 „ 
Volvart 24 squadrons 

TV. Corps. 

Prince Eugene, Viceroy of Italy, 57 battalions, 
24 squadrons 

V. Corps. 

5 battalions, 8 squadrons 
19 „ 
18 „ 
15 „ 

16 squadrons 

Prince Poniatovski, 44 battalions, 20 squadrons 

VI. Corps. 

16 battalions 
16 „ 
12 „ 
20 squadrons 

Marshal St Cyr, 28 battalions, 16 squadrons 
Deroy 15 battalions 
Wrede 13 
Light Cavalry 16 squadrons 


VII. Corps. 

Marshal Eeynier, 18 battalions, 16 squadrons 
Lecoq 9 battalions 

Funck 9 „ 

Gablentz 16 squadrons 

VIII. Corps. 

Marshal Junot, 16 battalions, 12 squadrons 
Tharreau 9 battalions 

Ochs 7 „ 

Hamerstein 12 squadrons 

IX. Corps. 

Marshal Victor, 54 battalions, 16 squadrons 
Partouneaux 21 battalions 
Daendels 13 „ 

Girard 20 „ 

Fournier 16 squadrons 

X. Corps. 

Marshal Macdonald, 36 battalions, 16 squadrons 
Grand jean 16 battalions 
York 20 

Massenbach 16 squadrons 
XL (Reserve) Corps. 

Marshal Augereau, 83 battalions, 37 squadrons 
Austrian Corps. 

Marshal Schwarzenberg, 27 battalions, 54 squadrons 

Cavalry Reserve. 

Marshal Murat, 224 squadrons 
I. Corps Nansouty 60 squadrons 

II. Corps Montbrun 60 „ 

III. Corps Grouchy 60 „ 

IV. Corps Latour-Maubourg 44 „ 

Total of the Grand Army : 608,000 men and 1242 guns. 


The invading army was composed of troops of various 
nations and unequal quality. Marbot says that "the 
Character army which crossed the Niemen amounted 
of the Army ^^ 325,000 men actually present, of whom 
155,000 were French." He considered that the tone 
of the French troops was lowered by mingling foreign 
regiments with them. " Thus the first corps commanded 
by Marshal Davout reckoned on 1st June 67,000 men, of 
whom 58,000 were French, the balance consisting of 
Germans, Spaniards and Poles. In Oudinot's corps 
with 34,000 French there were 1600 Portuguese, 1800 
Croats and 7000 Swiss. In Ney's corps the proportion 
of French was even smaller, while in the fourth and sixth 
corps, united under Eugene Beauharnais, the French 
composed less than one half, the remainder being Croats, 
Bavarians, Spaniards, Dalmatians and Italians ; and of 
the 44,000 cavalry under Murat 27,000 only were French 
. . . the foreigners all served very badly, and often 
paralysed the efforts of the French troops." 

According to another authority twenty nations were 
represented in the ranks of the Grand Army. Thus out 
of 605 battalions of infantry, 299, comprising 224,000 
men, were French, and 306 battalions, or 233,000 men, 
belonged to other nations. This admixture, however ex- 
cellent the elements composing it may have been, did not 
make for efficiency in discipline or facility in command. 
Of the cavalry, 38,000 were French and 42,000 foreigners. 


The Frencli veteran troops had taken part in many 
campaigns, had attained a high state of discipline and 
were possessed of most warlike qualities. Their cavalry 
contained a great many recruits and young horses un- 
fitted to bear the vicissitudes of a distant campaign 
involving many hardships. 

The artillery, largely armed with 4-pounders, was 
inferior to that of the Eussians. Many batteries were 
badly horsed, and in the Eussian territory that was 
occupied scarcely any remounts were obtainable to 
replace the great number of animals lost from the very 
beginning of the campaign, involving the abandonment 
of guns. 

"The French troops, inured to war by the vicissitudes 
of many campaigns, well trained, well equipped, and in- 
spired by the greatest soldier the world has ever seen, 
were the finest in Europe. At the same time, the superior 
ojfficers were in some cases tired of war, and possibly the 
moral of the troops was not at this time quite as high as 
it had been, for example, during the Austerlitz Campaign. 

The French were still recruited on the general system 
established after the Eevolution ; but they were far better 
trained, equ'pped and organised than when Napoleon 
first commanded an army in the campaign of Italy sixteen 
years before. The establishment of the Empire eight 
years previously had enhanced the power and prestige 
of Napoleon, whose troops were inspired by his presence. 


They possessed that whicli is half the battle — confidence 
in themselves and their commanders, and in the certainty 
of victory. They endured fatigue and privation with 
remarkable constancy. They were active and enter- 
prising, wonderful marchers, of superior intelligence, and 
most susceptible to appeals to their love of glory. They 
knew well how to adapt themselves to ground and take 
advantage of its natural features . The regimental ojB&cers 
were excellent, and constantly with their men, to whose 
training and well-being they devoted all their time and 

The cavalry consisted of heavy and light horse — 
cuirassiers, dragoons, hussars and mounted chasseurs. 
They were armed with sabre and pistol, and in some cases 
with carbines. Eegiments were organised in four 
squadrons. Brigades were variable in strength. The 
dragoons were principally employed in reconnoitring 
and in outpost duties. 

The artillery was generally massed, its fire being concen- 
trated on points of attack. Co-operation between the three 
arms was thoroughly understood ; the artillery especi- 
ally had learned to give close support to the infantry. 
The gunners were armed with musket and bayonet. 
Troops were well clothed and shod, and, as will be seen, 
close attention was given to the commissariat, although 
this broke down owing to the difficulties of the campaign. 

The infantry was armed with a flint gun, effective from 


a liundred to two hundred yards, but ranging double 
that distance. In action the light troops advanced 
skirmishing in extended order and taking advantage of 
all cover ; behind them followed the infantry in formed 
bodies in two or three lines, the attack being made 
generally in column. In these manoeuvres, in deploy- 
ments, and in skirmishing and attack in column with 
the bayonet, the troops had acquired great proficiency. 

De Segur gives an interesting account of the interior 
economy of the divisions of Davout's corps, which were 
Davout's ^ model for the rest of the army, the result 
Corps being that on the march to Moscow, " they 

retained the fullest complement of men ; their detach- 
ments, being under better discipline, brought back larger 
supplies, and at the same time inflicted less injury upon 
the inhabitants. Those who stayed with the colours 
lived upon the contents of their knapsacks, the clean and 
well-husbanded stores of which afforded relief and re- 
freshment to the eye which was absolutely harassed by 
the view of the general disorder ; each of these knapsacks, 
limited to what was strictly necessary in the articles of 
clothing, contained two shirts, two pairs of shoes, with 
nails and soles to repair them, a pair of canvas pantaloons 
and also of gaiters, some utensils for cleaning, a strip of 
linen for dressing wounds, some lint, and sixty cartridges. 

*' In the two sides were placed four biscuits, weighing 
sixteen ounces each ; beneath, and at the bottom, ^ 


long and narrow canvas bag was filled with ten pounds 
of flour. The whole knapsack thus constituted and filled, 
together with the straps and oil-case covering, weighed 
thirty-three pounds twelve ounces. 

" Each soldier carried besides, attached to a belt, a 
canvas bag containing two loaves weighing three pounds 
each. Thus with his sabre, his loaded cartridge box, three 
flints, turn-screw, belt and musket, he carried fifty-eight 
pounds' weight, and had bread for four days, biscuit 
for four days, flour for seven days and sixty musket- 

" In his rear there were carriages containing provisions 
for six days ; but little dependence could be placed on 
these vehicles, which were taken up in the difierent places 
which the army came to in the state in which they were 
found, and would have been extremely convenient in a 
different country, with a smaller army and a more slow 
and regular system of warfare. 

"When the flour-bag was empty, it was filled again 
with any grain that could be procured, which was ground 
at the first mill found on the road, or by hand-mills, which 
followed in the train of every regiment, or were to be met 
with in the villages, for these people in fact scarcely have 
any others. At one of these mills the labour of sixteen 
men was required for twelve hours to grind one day's 
supply of corn for a hundred and thirty men. 

" In this country, every house being provided with an 


oven, the army felt but little want in that respect. 
Bakers abounded ; the regiments of the first corps com- 
prised artisans of every description, so that victuals, 
clothes, everything, in short, could be prepared or mended 
among themselves in the course of the march. They, 
in fact, constituted colonies combining civilised with 
pastoral life. The original suggestion was the Emperor's, 
and Davout acted upon it. Opportunities, situations, 
and men had been eminently favourable to him for 
accomplishing the object ; but the other chiefs had these 
elements of success less at their disposal. Besides which, 
their more impetuous and less methodical characters 
would probably have prevented their acting on the same 
plan with anything like the same advantage. With a 
genius less organising and systematic they had, therefore, 
greater obstacles to surmount. The Emperor had not 
paid sufficient attention to these distinctions, and the 
consequences of this neglect were highly injurious." 

Most of the French generals had already borne a 
distinguished part in many campaigns. Jerome, the 
The French b^^o^li^r whom Napoleon had made King of 
Leaders Westphalia, was no soldier ; his appointment 
was a mistake which had far-reaching effects, although 
he did not remain long with the army. Nepotism was 
contrary to the Emperor's practice, and prior to Auster- 
litz he had said : " In the army there are no princes. There 
are men, officers, colonels, generals, and there is a 



Commander-in-Chief wlio must be more capable tban , 
all others and stand far above them." 

Eugene de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy, was a brave 
and capable commander. 

Murat, King of Naples, was a splendid leader of cavalry, 
possessing unsurpassed courage, activity and dasb — but 
was no general. Ever at the bead of th.e advanced guard, 
and first under fire, bis appearance in front of the troops 
served as a signal for battle. In a green tunic beavily 
faced with gold and a cap witb a tall red feather, sur- 
rounded by a brilliant staff including an Arab dressed as 
a mameluke, tbis fearless warrior aroused the enthusiasm 
of bis troops and the wonder of tbe Cossacks, who often 
greeted bim with cbeers. 

Davout was cold and methodical ; although animated 
by tbe spirit of the offensive in battle, be left nothing to 
cbance. His victory at Auerstadt, on the day of Jena, led 
Napoleon to refer to him in his bulletin as "of distin- 
guished bravery, and great firmness of character, tbe 
first quality of a warrior." His services were scarcely 
less distinguisbed at Eatisbon, Eylau and Wagram. His 
wisdom was equally remarkable in the administration of 
bis command and on the field of battle. 

The times were favourable for, as has been truly said, , 
only in great political cataclysms are men of character 
and talent likely to find a fair opportunity of rising pro- 
fessionally above the general dead level. Such times 


produced Ney, " tlie bravest of tlie brave," wlio bad 
played a splendid part at Hobenlinden in 1800, and bad 
since tben been perbaps tbe most conspicuous figure 
tbat adorned tbe First Empire. He was unsurpassed 
as a leader of troops on tbe field of battle, and as a rear- 
guard commander. 

Oudinot, Victor and St Cyr were all soldiers of dis- 
tinguisbed ability; tbe latter in particular possessed 
great intelKgence and firmness of cbaracter. Napoleon 
considered bim " tbe first of all of us in defensive war." 
He was calm amid tbe most exciting scenes, and bad a 
taste for study and meditation. 

Junot appeared to be sufiering from tbe mental disease 
from wbicb be perisbed in tbe succeeding year, and was no 
longer fit to lead troops. 

Poniatovski proved bimself a brave and capable leader ; 
and tbere were many able soldiers among tbe divisional 
and brigade commanders. 

Bertbier bas been cbaracterised as a model cbief-of -tbe- 
staff ; but tbe system of Napoleon, wbo was in effect bis 
own cbief of tbe staff, bad reduced Bertbier to a mere 
automaton. He was capable of framing tbe orders 
issued by tbe Emperor, but not of acting on bis own 
initiative even in minor matters. 

For tbis Napoleon's system of centralisation was 
largely to blame. In tbe Emperor's early days, wben be 
bad smaller armies to command, and possessed unlimited 


energy and capacity for work, this system proved 

effective. But later it led to a neglect of necessary 


The Russian ^^^ Russian forces were disposed in three 

Armies armies as follows : — 

First Western Army under General 
Barclay de Tolly 

1st Corps. — Lieutenant-General Count Wittgenstein : 28 

battalions, 16 squadrons, 3 Cossack regiments, 

9 companies artillery, 1 company pioneers, 2 pontoon 

2nd Corps. — Lieutenant-General Baggevoot : 24 bat- 
talions, 8 squadrons, 7 companies artillery. 
3rd Corps. — Lieutenant-General Tuchkov : 24 battalions, 

4 squadrons, 1 Cossack regiment, 7 companies 

Uh Corps. — Lieutenant-General Count Sbuvalov ^ : 23 

battalions, 8 squadrons, 6 companies artillery. 
bth Reserve Corps. — H.I.H. the Grand Duke Constantine 

Pavlovich : 26 battalions, 20 squadrons, 6 companies 

artillery, 1 company pioneers. 
^th Corps. — General Dokhturov : 24 battalions, 8 

squadrons, 7 companies artillery. 
\st Cavalry Corps. — Lieutenant-General Uvarov : 20 

squadrons, 1 company horse artillery. 
2nd Cavalry Corp)s. — Major-General Baron Korf: 24 

squadrons, 1 company horse artillery. 
3rd Cavalry Corps. — Major-General Count Palen : 24 

squadrons, 1 company horse artillery. 

^ Succeeded in July by Lieutenant-General Count Osterman- 


Light Troops. — General Ataman Platov: 14 squadrons, 
4 companies artillery. 

Total: 120,000 men and 558 guns. 

Second Western Army under General 
Prince Bagration 

7th Corps. — Lieutenant-General Eaevski : 24 battalions, 
8 squadrons, 7 companies artillery. 

8th Corps. — Lieutenant-General Borozdin : 22 battalions, 
20 squadrons, 5 companies artillery. 

ith Cavalry Corps. — Major-General Count Sivers : 24 
squadrons, 1 company artillery, 1 company pioneers, 
1 pontoon company. 

Reserve Artillery. — 4 companies. 

Light Troops. — Major-General Ilovaiski : 9 Cossack regi- 
ments, 1 company artillery. 

Total : 45,000 men and 216 guns. 

Third Eeserve Army of Observation 
General Count Tormassov 

Corps. — General Count Kamenski : 18 battalions, 8 

squadrons, 4 companies artillery. 
Corps. — Lieutenant-General Markov: 12 battalions, 

8 squadrons, 7 companies artillery. 
Corps. — Lieutenant-General Baron Sacken : 1 2 battalions, 

24 squadrons, 2 companies artillery. 
Cavalry Corps. — Major-General Count Lambert : 36 

Light Troops. — 9 Cossack regiments. 
Reserve Artillery. — 1 artillery company, 1 pioneer 

company, 1 pontoon company. 

Total : 46,000 men and 164 guns. 


Grand total of Eussian armies — 211,000 men and 1038 
guns. Eeinforcements joined later, including the army 
of Moldavia under Admiral Cliicliagov, set free by the 
treaty with Turkey, and the army of Finland under 
General Steinheil. 

Of the character of the Russian army, Sir Robert 
Wilson, who knew it well at this period, wrote : " The 
^, .infantry is generally composed of athletic 

the Russian men between the ages of eighteen and forty, 
endowed with great bodily strength, but 
generally of short stature, with martial countenance 
and complexion ; inured to the extremes of weather 
and hardships ; to the worst and scantiest food ; to 
marches for days and nights, of four hours' repose and 
six hours' progress ; accustomed to laborious toils and 
the carriage of heavy burthens ; ferocious, but disciplined; 
obstinately brave, and susceptible of enthusiastic excite- 
ments ; devoted to their sovereign, their chief, and their 
country. Religious without being weakened by super- 
stition ; patient, docile, and obedient ; possessing all 
the energetic characteristics of a barbarian people, with 
the advantages grafted by civilisation." 

A system of compulsory service ensured the enlistment 
of the best men. The magistrates selected the most 
System of efficient young men according to the required 
Enlistment number. The Russian soldier was thus 
selected from a numerous population, with the greatest 


attention to his physical powers ; no man even with 
bad teeth was enlisted. 

In accordance with the traditions of Suvarov, the 
bayonet was the principal weapon of the Russian infantry. 
Martial ^^® French had already experienced their 
Qualities fighting powers in the campaign of Austerlitz, 
and at Friedland and Eylau in 1807. The regiments of 
light infantry, and especially the chasseurs of the Guard, 
composed largely of men from Siberia, were hardy, 
excellently trained, and good marksmen. The f ootguards, 
numbering some 7000 men, were the elite of the army, of 
whom Sir R. Wilson wrote — " there cannot be a nobler 
corps, or one of more warlike description." 

The Russian cavalry was said by the same authority 
to be the best mounted on the Continent, " and as 
Russian English horses can never serve abroad in 
Cavalry English condition, ^ it is the best mounted 
in Europe." After the battle of Eylau, when the Imperial 
cavalry of the guards were ordered from St Petersburg to 
join the army in Poland, the men were sent in waggons 
as far as Riga, and the horses accompanied at the rate 
of fifty miles each day. From thence they were ridden 
thirty-five miles a day for 700 miles, and arrived in 
good condition. 

The cavalry soldiers were brave and intelligent, and 

^ " At least as long as the English cavalry are nurtured to 
require warm stables, luxuriant beds, etc. — so long as efficiency 
abroad is sacrificed to appearance at home." — Sir R. Wilson. 


had especially distinguislied themselves at the battles of 
Eylau and Friedland, where they covered the retreat 
of the infantry. 

The Eussians were strong in artillery, and their guns 
were well equipped and well served. Eour horses drew 
the light field-pieces and eight and twelve 
pounders. The drivers were of high quality, 
and the artillery was remarkably mobile, and, although 
they did not attach too much reputation or disgrace to 
the possession or loss of a gun, few guns were lost in the 
campaign in Poland. 

The Cossacks, natives of the Don and Volga, merit 
some notice in an account of a campaign in which they 
The ^o^® ^ conspicuous part. Living in semi- 

Cossacks independence, under their own laws, and 
exempt from taxes, the Cossacks were under an obliga- 
tion to serve for five years with the Russian army. They 
were born soldiers who with their first accents learn to 
lisp of war. From eight years of age the boys rode fear- 
lessly over the steppe on half -wild, bare-backed horses. 
On holidays they fired at marks, cut posts, and indulged 
in various warlike games, while the long evenings were 
passed in listening to tales of raids and adventures with 
which the veterans fired the spirits of their sons. Armed 
with long lances, guns, sabres and pistols, they rode 
small but hardy horses ; lightly equipped, a snaffle, 
halter, the tree of a saddle, on which was bound a cushion 


stuffed with the Cossack's property, on which he rode, 
formed the whole of his baggage. 

Count Benkendorf, who was employed with Cossacks, 
wrote in 1816 : " The Cossack is born with that degree 
of activity, intelligence, and enterprise that up to the 
rank of non-commissioned officer he is unrivalled ; but 
he degenerates immediately when he is pushed beyond 
his place into a higher grade. The non-commissioned 
officers are the soul of a regiment of the Don, because they 
almost always obtain that advancement owing to their 
own merit." No troops were better adapted for night 
marches than the Cossacks. Their sabres were firmly 
fixed in their girdles ; they had no spurs ; and no metal 
to clash against their arms. The stars served them as 
guides ; and they would get supplies and forage for their 
horses where other troops would starve. Cossack move- 
ments were very simple, and they had their own peculiar 
tactics. They generally marched in sections of threes. 
The squadron (sotnia) standards were united at the head 
of the column ; the squadron leaders in front and the 
other officers on the flank. In deploying they formed up 
in single rank. A close column was rapidly reformed on 
the centre. Their principal tactical manoeuvre was the 
celebrated lava, learnt from the Tartar hordes of Ghengiz 
Ehan and Taimur, and from the bitter experience of many 
a bloody fight. This consisted in fighting in a loose for- 
mation, tiring out their foes, and drawing them into 


ambuscades. Writing in this year of 1812, the French 

Marshal Morand said : " We (the French cavalry) deploy, 

and boldly advance to the attack, and already reach their 

line ; but they disappear like a dream and we see only 

the bare pines and birch trees. An hour later, when we 

have begun to feed our horses, the dark line of Cossacks 

again appears on the horizon, and we are again threatened 

with an onslaught. We repeat the same manoeuvre, and, 

as before, our operations are not attended with success. 

Thus one of the best and bravest cavalry forces the world 

has ever seen was tired out and disorganised by those 

whom it considered unworthy foes, but who were the real 

saviours of their country." Again, Bronze vski wrote : 

" In the day of trial the Don Cossacks stood in the first 

rank of the defenders of their country. The great deeds 

performed by them in the war of the fatherland form the 

golden epoch of their history, and surpass all the glory 

and renown won by them in former campaigns." 

They do not appear, however, to have been much more 
than efficient skirmishers, and in the attack they dis- 
played little enterprise and no high order of courage. 
But their elusive tactics wore out their opponents. 

With the exception of those of the Guards and cavalry, 
the officers of the Russian army had generally little 
Russian education, a circumstance which reacted 
Officers especially on the efficiency of the infantry of 
the line. But their courage was unimpeachable, and 


they were ready to undergo any hardship in the service 
of their country. The superior officers, drawn generally 
from the Guards, were highly educated and usually ac- 
quainted with several languages. In 1807 Sir R. Wilson 
^vrote : " Amongst the present Russian officers there is 
no deficiency of talent ; there are indeed many excellent 
generals of brigade and division, but an uninterrupted 
succession of Suvarovs cannot be expected." 

The staff was generally untrained and inefficient, 
although the officers of the Quartermaster-General's 

Department could draw well, rapidly, and 

accurately, and take up ground quickly and 

judiciously. But their duties were too complicated 

and there was a lack of proper chiefs. Great attention 

was paid to departmental minutiae, and "the lowest 

Cossack officer from his saddle on the snow was obliged 

to send his information with such care about the paper, 

wording, folding and address, as if the report was destined 

to be preserved in the archives of St Petersburg." 

The administrative departments generally were greatly 

neglected in the Russian army, especially those of com- 

Administra- i3aisariat and transport, although no soldier 

tion jj^ Europe was satisfied more easily than the 

Russian, while excellent transport was obtainable in the 

two-horse Russian Kihitka. During the campaign in 

Poland in 1807 the Russian army was reduced to the 

verge of starvation. The medical department was no 


better, for want of an efficient staff. The wounded were 
for the first time dressed on the field of battle at Friedland. 

In every respect the Kussians had gained valuable 
experience in the wars with Napoleon, and the army was 
now the most formidable with which the great conqueror 
had had to contend. 

The Russians had experienced and capable generals, 

many of whom had previously met the French at Auster- 

_ . litz and in Poland. Barclay de Tolly , Minister 

Russian ^ . 

Com- of War, who commanded the First Western 

Army, was cool, straightforward and stead- 
fast. He had exerted himself in army reform, and 
made enemies in the process. His want of confidence 
in others led him to the performance of many duties 
which might have been carried out by subordinates. 
Like so many distinguished Russians, he was of foreign 
extraction ; he was regarded with some distrust as a 
foreigner, and had not sufficient command of the 
language to converse with the Russian soldiers. 

Prince Bagration, Commander of the Second Army, 
was a born warrior who had served under Suvarov, and 
fought in the Caucasus, in Turkey, Poland, Italy, Austria 
and Finland, where he had distinguished himself in every 
action. Always with the advanced guard or the rear- 
guard, Bagration was tireless in war. Considerate to 
others, strict towards himself, he knew, like Suvarov, the 
value of those under his command. All who surrounded 


Mm were devoted in his service. He was not as well 
educated as Barclay in theory and in administration, but 
he was more able to inspire his troops. 

Tormassov, before his appointment to the command 
of the Third Army, was known as a skilful military ad- 
ministrator, with a gift for diplomacy, exhibited a short 
time before in war with the Turks, and Persians, when he 
was Commander-in-Chief of the troops in Gruzia and on 
the line of the Caucasus. Unable to beat his enemy in 
the field, he had cunningly kept the Turks and Persians 
apart. He was strict in his relations with his subordinates, 
regarding zealous service as a duty, and not as entailing 
a right to distinction or reward. 

Count Lambert, who throughout the war generally 
commanded the advanced guard, first with Tormassov 
and afterwards with Chichagov, was a Frenchman who 
had left his native country in his youth and entered the 
Russian service. He had distinguished himself and was 
severely wounded in the war of 1799, and in the campaign 
of 1807 he had gained renown as a cavalry general and 
advanced guard commander. 

Count Wittgenstein, then forty-four years old, was a 
bold and active warrior, not highly educated, but with 
capacity for command and ability to inspire his troops 
by his example, while the devotion of his staff helped to 
render him a formidable opponent. 

Kutuzov, who was on the 20th August 1812 appointed 


to tlie command of all tlie Kussian armies, was sixty- 
seven years of age, and had scarcely the energy of body 
and mind requisite for the task before him. The 
Napoleonic wars had already shown the value of youth 
in the commanders of armies ; the failure of Napoleon's 
adversaries, and the signs of decline in himself, point 
to the essential truth of his own dictum that " no general 
has any enterprise after his forty-fifth year." 

Kutuzov was inferior to Barclay de Tolly in admini- 
strative ability, and to Bagration in activity. He was 
experienced and cunning but somewhat dilatory and 
unenterprising. He had, however, the confidence of the 
whole army and nation, which was lost by Barclay owing 
to his prolonged retreat, and was thus an asset of value. 

Miloradovich, possessing many of the qualities of a 
fine advanced guard commander, tireless, cool and 
cheerful in the midst of danger, was, however, neglectful 
of the proper disposition of his troops, and some of his 
orders were scarcely intelligible. But he was always to 
be found at the post of danger. 

There were many other good commanders among 

the Russians — Osterman, Prince Eugene of Wurtemburg, 

Konovnitzin, Baggevoot, Platov, Ataman of Cossacks, 

and the brothers Tuchkov. 

_ , . , When the campaign opened on the 23rd 

Positions of . . 

Opposing- June 1812 the opposing armies were posted 

Armies c ,1 

as lollows ; — 



First Army.— Barclay de Tolly, 120,000 men and 
558 guns. Headquarters at Vilna 
Is^ Corps. — Wittgenstein, at Kedani ; detachment at 

Eossiana; advanced guard at Yurbourg. 
2nd Corps. — Baggevoot, at Orzhishki; advanced guard 

at Yanovo. 
3rd Corps. — Tuchkov, at No via Troki ; advanced guard at 

Visoki Dvor. 
ith Cmps. — Shuvalov, at Olkenikij advanced guard at 

hth Corps. — Grand Duke Cons tan tine Pavlovich, at 

Qth Cmps. — Dokhturov, at Lida ; advanced guard formed 

by the 3rd Cavalry Eeserve Corps under Palen at 


\st Reserve Cavalry Corps. — Uvarov, at Vilkomir. 
^Tid Reserve Cavalry Corps. — Baron Korf, at Smorgoni. 

The last two cavalry corps formed the second line of 
the First Army. Plato v's flying detachment was at 

Second Army. — Bagration, 45,000 men and 216 guns, 
between the Niemen and the Bug, with headquarters 
at Volkovisk. 

1th Cwps. — Eaevski, at Novi Dvor. 

d>th Corps. — Borozdin, at Volkovisk. 

Uh Cavalry Reserve Corps. — Sievers, at Zelva. 

Flying Detachment. — Ilovaiski, at Bielostok. 


Third Army. — Tormassov, in Volhynia. Headquarters 

at Lutzk 

Napoleon. — Headquarters at Vilkovishki 
Guard. — At Vilkovishki. 
1st Corps. — Davout, forest of Pilviski. 
2nd Corps. — Oudinot, in rear. 
3rd Corps. — Ney, in advance at Marienpol. 
4:th Corps. — Eugene, at Oletzko. 
6th Corps. — Gouvion St Cyr, at Tzimochen. 

\st Cavalry Reserve Cows, — Nansouty 1 -n i. ir 

^ , ^ ,^ , Jietween Kovno 

^nd „ „ „ MontbrunV ^nd Preni. 

3rd „ „ ,, Grouchy j 

Eight Wing. — King Jerome. Headquarters at Augustovo 
btli Corps. — Poniatovski, at Augustovo. 
1th Corps. — Reynier, at Ostrolenko. 
^th Corps. — Vandamme, at Augustovo. 

These corps arrived at their destination on the 
25th June. 

Uh Cavalry Coips. — Latour Manbourg, at Augustovo. 
Left Wing. — Macdonald, Tilsit. 



The western regions of Russia and the strip of country 
from the Upper Dnieper to Moscow formed the theatre 
of the war of 1812. Generally the whole western portion 
of the Russian empire, bounded on the north by the 
Baltic Sea, on the west by the Niemen and Bug, on the 
south by the Dniester and on the east by the Dnieper and 
Dwina may be divided into three parts : 1. The Northern, 
from the Baltic to the forest region.^ 2. The Central^ 
including the forest region, together with the marshes 
of the Berezina and the Bielovezh plain. 3. The 
Southern, from the forest region to the Dniester and the 
Austrian frontier. 

The northern portion is undulating, intersected by 
rivers which do not present formidable obstacles to the 
passage of troops, in parts covered with forests, lakes and 
inextensive marshes ; the borderland of the Baltic Sea 
has a surface soil of clay, sand and black earth, and is 
fairly productive ; the part nearest the forest region is 
for the greater part sandy. The region on the right bank 

^ In Russian polyesiye — forest region. 



of tlie Lower Dwina is covered by innumerable lakes, 
marshes, forests, small hills and streams, which fall into 
the Dwina ; of these streams the most important is the 
Drissa, which by its direction, parallel to the course of the 
Dwina, and owing to the left bank commanding the right, 
presents an advantageous defensive line against an enemy 
crossing the Dwina between the town of Drissa and the 
mouth of the Eiver Ula. The region from Smolensk to 
Moscow, forming the theatre of operations of Napoleon's 
Grand Army, as it approaches the ancient capital, be- 
comes more and more open ; the country is fertile 
and well cultivated, and abounds in wheat and other 
supplies necessary for an army. 

The forest region, the country lying in the form of a 
triangle between Brest-Litovsk, Eogachev and the mouth 
of the Pripet, presents a strip of low-lying, marshy ground 
covered with dense forests, in the midst of which small 
open spaces are met with, characterised by sandy hills, 
and valleys suited for cultivation, in which are a few 
villages. All the rivers of this region flow between low, 
marshy banks, and in spring and autumn overflow for a 
considerable distance, when they become impassable, or 
can be crossed only slowly by means of flat-bottomed 
boats and rafts. It will be understood then that, in the 
first place, the forest region divides the northern and 
southern parts of the western borderland of the Empire ; 
and in the second place, that that country is specially 


suitable for the operations of partisan detachments, all 
the more because the sparse population and absence of 
supplies does not admit of the employment of consider- 
able forces. 

Finally the southern portion of the western borderland 
of Russia presents a low terrain, partly marshy, or un- 
dulating and covered with forest ; the rivers flowing into 
the Pripet, of which the principal are the Styr and Gorin, 
have for the most part low banks, but constitute suffi- 
ciently advantageous defensive lines, which in 1812 were 
secured on the left flank by the neutrality of Galicia, for 
although the Austrian Government supplied Napoleon 
with an army corps, they did not declare war on Russia. 
The country south of the forest region includes Volhynia 
and Podolia, which belong to the most fertile part of the 

The River Niemen formed the first obstacle to 
Napoleon's advance across the northern part of Western 
Russia, which comprised the chief theatre of operations ; 
but that defensive line was unfavourable for the Russians, 
as the left bank is commanded by the right for almost 
the whole course of the river below Grodno. The width 
of the Niemen above Kovno is from 250 to 300 paces, 
and below Kovno from 350 to 400 paces. There were 
bridges across the river at Novo-Sverzhen, Bielitza,Mosti, 
Grodno and Tilsit ; ferries at Kovno, Yurburg and other 
places. The second considerable obstacle in the direction 


of St Petersburg was the Western Dwina, and towards 
Moscow — the Berezina and the Upper Dnieper. The 
Western Dwina presents a highly advantageous defensive 
line, strengthened at its lower end by the fortress of Kiga 
(the fortifications of Dinaburg had scarcely been begun). 
Moreover, a hundred versts above Dinaburg, on the left 
bank of the Dwina, a fortified camp was established at 
Drissa, in which it was proposed to concentrate the main 
strength of the Russian army. Above Dinaburg the 
Dwina does not present any considerable obstacle, for the 
banks are low and the depth is not great, and during a 
dry summer fords appear. From Vitebsk to Drissa, and 
for some distance below the latter point, the left bank 
commands the right ; farther on, to Riga itself, the right 
bank is higher than the left. The width of the river 
between Vitebsk and Dinaburg in from 180 to 230 paces, 
and at Riga, 800 paces. There were bridges at Velizh, 
Surazh, Vitebsk, Dinaburg and Riga ; and ferries at 
Budilova, Bieshenkovichy, Ula, Polotzk, Disna, Drissa, 
Leonpol, Druya, Jacobstadt and Friedrichstadt. 

The River Berezina might serve as a defensive line to 
cover the front between the Dwina and the Dnieper. 
That region extends from Vitebsk to Orsha, 60 versts ; 
and in width presents a marshy and wooded strip, 
extending on one side to Syenno, and on the other to 
Poryechiye and Smolensk. The region between the 
Berezina and the Dnieper is still more enclosed and 


resembles the forest region. The supporting points of the 
defensive line on the Berezina in 1812 were furnished by 
the fortresses of Bobruisk and Borisov, but the first of 
these lay to one side of the main roads to the interior, 
and could therefore not exercise a decisive influence on 
the operations ; the stronghold of Borisov, for want of 
time, could not be brought into use, for the engineering 
works were confined to the arming of the bridge-head. 
The width of the Berezina from the canal to its junction 
with the Dnieper varied from 60 to 120 paces. The 
right bank commands the left, except at Veselovo, 
Studianka, Borisov and Nijni-Berezina, where the left 
bank is higher than the right. Fords are to be found 
in summer and sometimes in autumn, but generally the 
passage is rendered difficult by marshes extending on 
both banks of the river. There were bridges at Borisov 
and Bobruisk ; ferries at Veselovo, Nijni-Berezina, and 
other places. 

The River Dnieper, flowing from Dorogobuzh to Orsha, 
almost parallel with the Western Dwina, and beyond 
Orsha sharply turning to the south, although navigable 
throughout its whole course from Dorogobuzh to its 
mouth, cannot be said to furnish a favourable defensive 
line against an enemy advancing on Moscow, not only 
because at many points the right bank commands the 
left, but because during summer fords are to be found 
above Smolensk, at Lyada, Khomino, Mobile v, Vorko- 

— I 

labov, Novi-Bikhov, and other places. The width of the 
river at Dorogobuzh is 90 paces, from Smolensk to Stari- 
Bikhov 100 to 150 paces, and below Bikhov to its 
junction with the Pripet gradually increases to 500 
paces. There were bridges at Smolensk, Mohilev and 
Kiev ; ferries at many points. The fortified town of 
Smolensk, lying at the junction of the roads from 
Poryechiye, Vitebsk, Orsha, Mstislavl, Eoslavl, Dorogo- 
buzh and Dukhovshchina, affords means for a stubborn 

The first line of defence against the irruption of an 
enemy into the southern region is formed by the Western 
Bug. The width of this river at Ustilug is about 40 paces, 
and at Drogichin, 120 paces. In summer many fords are 
to be found between Vlodava and Brest. Generally, the 
left bank commands the right, except at points at Ustilug, 
Opalin, Brest, Nemirov and Drogichin, where the right 
bank is the higher. Much better lines of defence are 
furnished by the Rivers Styr and Gorin. 

Generally in the districts to the north and south of the 
forest region there were a great many roads, mutually 
intersecting one another in every direction ; but their 
condition varied with the weather and the time of year. 
On these roads it was impossible to employ, with con- 
stant success, the transport used in the Napoleonic armies 
in Germany and Italy ; and light transport required a 
multitude of horses to carry supplies for the troops, which 


in their turn were with difficulty supplied with forage, of 
which there was not always sufficient even for the troop- 
horses of the immense army of invasion. 

In the forest region the number of roads was strictly 
limited, and generally communications were difficult, 
especially in spring and autumn. 

The climate of Russia is characterised by extreme cold 
in winter, which comes on very rapidly, and considerable 
heat in summer. During the first part of the campaign 
the invading armies suffered much from sultry weather as 
well as from heavy rain ; while during the retreat they 
were destroyed by the cold. The efiect of climate is thus 
expressed by Napier, who wrote : " What vast prepara- 
tions, what astonishing combinations were involved in 
the plan, what vigour and ability displayed in the execu- 
tion of Napoleon's march to Moscow ! Yet when winter 
came, only four days sooner than he expected, the giant's 
scheme became a theme for children's laughter ! " In 
fact, the forces of Nature with which the invaders had 
to contend were more terrible and imposing than the 
hostility of man. 



General Distribution — Russians — French — Napoleon on the 
Niemen — Forward Movement — Passage of the River — 
Napoleon's Plan — Further Advance — The Russians sur- 
prised — General Russian Retreat — French Advance — 
Napoleon's Dispositions — Movements of the King of West- 
phalia — Bagration's Retreat — Pursuit of Bagration — 
Weather Conditions — Difficulties of Supply and Transport 
— Comments 

When tlie French Emperor left Dresden on the 28th May 
General ^^^ Russian armies were distributed on a 
Distribution ^'^^^ front, with a view to meeting the enemy 
wherever his attack developed. 
The First Army— Barclay de Tolly— 120,000 men and 
. 558 guns, with headquarters at Vilna, and 

RussiEns n 1 

flanks at Rossiana and Lida. 

Second Army — Bagration — 45,000 men and 216 guns, 
with headquarters at Volkovisk, lay between that place 
and Bielostok near the Bug, 

Third Army — Tormassov — 46,000 men and 164 guns, 
was in Volhynia, with headquarters at Lutzk. 

On that date Napoleon's army was standing on the 

Vistula, so disposed that an advance could be 
French , . , r • 

made from either wmg with equal facility. 



Napoleon's plan was to pierce the too extended Russian 
line by a movement on Vilna, and tlien defeat the enemy 
in detail. It was in accord with the principle he had 
carried out with success in Italy and in Spain, and was 
yet to adopt in the Waterloo campaign. He would 
" concentrate 400,000 men on one point." 

On the morning of the 23rd June 1812 a travelling 
carriage, drawn by six horses and accompanied by an 
Napoleon on escort of mounted chasseurs of the Guard, 
the Niemen (j^ew up near a regiment of Polish Lancers 
on the outposts near the bank of the Niemen opposite 
Kovno. Napoleon alighted from the carriage, and 
questioned the officers who approached as to the 
routes to the Niemen. He expressed a desire to put on 
a Polish uniform, and donned Colonel Pogovski's cloak 
and forage cap. Accompanied by Berthier and one of 
the Polish officers he rode to the advanced posts, to the 
village of Alexoten, opposite Kovno ; afterwards, with 
General Haxo, his Engineer Commander, having care- 
fully observed the locality, he rode higher up the Niemen 
to the village of Ponyemun, where Haxo found a very 
convenient point of passage, where a bend in the river 
would facilitate the concentration of the fire of batteries 
posted on the left bank. Napoleon reconnoitred the place, 
without being observed ; some Cossack patrols were the 
only troops visible on the farther bank of the Niemen. 
At one point his horse stumbled and threw him on the 



sand, as lie or one of his suite remarked : "A bad omen ! 
A Roman would liave turned back." Returning from 
this reconnaissance, the Emperor was very gay, and 
during the day frequently hummed the old air : " Marl- 
brouk s'en va-t-en guerre." 

Afterwards, having discarded the Polish garments, 
he proceeded to Nogarishki, a village lying six versts 
from Kovno, somewhat to the right of the road from 
Vilkovishki to that place. 

On this day Napoleon's main army, consisting of the 
corps of Davout, Oudinot, Ney, Nansouty, Montbrun 
Forward ^^^ ^^^ Guard, to the number of 220,000 men, 
Movement approached the Niemen in the neighbourhood 
of Kovno ; and Macdonald reached Tilsit with 32,500. 

At the same time the Viceroy Eugene, St Cyr, and 
Grouchy moved on Kalvaria and Preni ; King Jerome, 
with the corps of Poniatovski, Reynier, Vandamme and 
Latour-Maubourg, also numbering some 80,000, marched 
on Bielostok and Grodno ; while Schwarzenberg marched 
towards Drogichin on the Bug with 34,000 men. 

Napoleon's headquarters were established at Nogar- 
ishki. Arrived there, he issued orders for the passage of the 
Niemen, for which three pontoon bridges of 75 pontoons 
each were to be constructed at Ponyemun, at intervals 
of not less than 150 paces. In addition a fourth bridge 
was to be thrown across at Alexoten, where the pontoons 
were to remain until the French troops had occupied 


Kovno, and afterwards serve for the crossing of tlie main 
road between that town and Alexoten. Tke orders 
showed in detail the disposition of the troops up to and 
for the passage, the situation of the batteries, and the 
order of march of the colunms on the farther bank of 
the river. 

At nine o'clock in the evening Napoleon again went 
to Ponyemun, where the work was begun in his presence. 
Some boats found on the left bank of the river served for 
the passage of three companies of the 13th Light Infantry, 
Passage of which at once occupied an adjacent village ; 
the River g^ Cossack patrol retired after exchanging a 
few shots. By midnight the French army was already 
moving across the bridges, and as they reached the 
farther bank they formed up in deep columns. Davout's 
corps marched on by the road leading through Zhizhmori 
to Vilna, and Murat's cavalry followed. 

Napoleon's plan was to pierce the Russian centre with 
the Guards, the corps of Davout, Oudinot, Ney and 
Napoleon's Murat with Nansouty and Montbrun's cavalry, 
Plan moving from Kovno on Vilna, the jGirst objec- 

tive of the campaign. This movement would be sup- 
ported on the right rear by Eugene with the 4th Corps 
together with St Cyr's corps and Grouchy's cavalry ; 
while, farther back again on the right rear, the Emperor's 
brother, Jerome, King of Westphalia, would advance with 
the right wing, and distract the attention of the Russians 


from the main line of advance. Should the enemy assume 
the offensive in the direction of Warsaw, Jerome would 
stand on the defensive, while Eugene attacked them in 
flank, and the Emperor, descending from Vilna, would 
sever them from their base. The main attacking army 
thus advanced across the Niemen between Grodno and 
Kovno. The two extreme flanks of this great army 
of invasion were covered — the left by Macdonald, who 
would advance from Tilsit on Kossiana, the right by 
Schwarzenberg, towards Lublin. 

Napoleon established his headquarters at Kovno on 
the 24th June. Learning that Prince Eugene would not 
Further arrive at Kalvaria until the 26th, and dreading 
Advance to expose Ney alone to the attacks of the 
Russian forces which he supposed to be at Troki, the 
Emperor decided to bring Ney's corps to Kovno. At 
the same time, in order to secure both banks of the Vilia, 
he directed Oudinot to throw a bridge across that river, 
and send over a division and some cavalry ; and 
Macdonald was ordered to enter into communication with 
Oudinot, which was established by Grand jean's division 
at Georgenburg. 

These dispositions were made in case of a Russian 
oflensive movement against the left flank of the army, 
the corps of Ney and Oudinot being disposed to ward off 
this danger. The right wing under King Jerome was 
directed on Grodno, where it would pass the Niemen on 


the 29tli June. Schwarzenberg was to unite with Keynier 
towards Slonim. 

The news that the French army had crossed the Niemen 
reached Vilna on the night of the 24th June. The 

celerity of the movement in passing 200,000 
Russians men across the river in the course of a few 

hours was a surprise to the Russians, although 

they had already taken the precaution to move their 

archives and treasure. The Emperor Alexander left 

Vilna on the morning of the 26th, when Barclay de Tolly 

concentrated the 3rd and 4th Corps at that place. But 

as the enemy advanced, and came in contact with his 

advanced troops, Barclay was obliged to retire and 

withdrew to Sventziani on the 28th, directing Bagge- 

voot to delay the enemy at Shirvinti. He had already 

sent directions to General Dorokhov, who was at Orani, 

_ , to retire on Mikhalishki ; and Platov was 


Russian ordered to retreat from Grodno through Lida 


and Smorgoni towards Sventziani, opposing 
the enemy wherever possible and laying waste the country 
on his route. At the same time, informing Bagration of 
his retreat with the 3rd and 4th Corps on Sventziani, he 
instructed him "to conform to this movement, taking 
care that the enemy did not cut his communications via 
Minsk with Borisov and to guard his right flank," and 
keep up communication with Platov and Tormassov. 
All stores that could not be carried away from Vilna 


were burnt, and tlie bridges over the Vilia were destroyed. 
Simultaneously Wittgenstein retired with the 1st Corps 
on Vilkomir ; Korf's cavalry retreated from Smorgoni on 
Mikhalishki ; and Dokhturov with the 6th Corps on 
Smorgoni. The whole of the First Kussian Army was 
thus in full retreat ; but Bagration was still at Volkovisk. 

Napoleon reached Vilna on the 28th June, making a 
state entry, when he was received with acclamation by 
the Polish populace. 

Oudinot reached Vilkomir the same day, driving 
out Wittgenstein's rearguard ; Ney was advancing 
French along the right bank of the Vilia, and 
Advance Macdonald advanced through Eossiana. 
Eugene was at Preni, on the left bank of the Niemen, and 
received orders to advance on Vilna ; and Jerome, who 
was at Augustovo, was directed to move at once on 
Grodno, where Latour-Maubourg had already arrived 
with his cavalry. Schwarzenberg , was at Siedlitz. 

The movement on Vilna had thus pierced the Kussian 
centre, and separated their First and Second Armies. 
Napoleon's Reviewing the situation at Vilna, Napoleon, 
Dispositions though not clear as to Bagration's position, 
now perceived the opportunity of cutting off and 
destroying that general's army. He despatched Murat 
in pursuit of the main body of Barclay de Tolly, toward 
Sventziani, with the cavalry and two of Davout's 
divisions. Nansouty, with his cavalry and one of 


Davout's divisions, was sent towards Mikhalishki to deal 
with Dokhtiirov ; and Davout, witli his two remaining 
divisions, Grouchy's cavalry, and a Polish division, 
moved on Volozhin to cut in on the line of retreat of the 
Second Russian Army. King Jerome, with the right 

wing of the army, was supposed to be f ollow- 

Movements • -o x- • j xi. j. • • x* 

of the King ^^g ^^P -Bagration, m order that, m conjunction 

^hY^^^^' ^^^^ Davout, he might destroy his army. 
But Jerome was dilatory in his movements. 
His cavalry patrols had been before Grodno since the 
23rd June, but he himself did not enter that place 
until the 30th, when he arrived with a division of the 
5th Corps. He spent some days in concentrating and 
in attending to his commissariat. Instead of making 
every effort to gain contact with Bagration, he remained 
inactive, apparently awaiting orders from Vilna, and 
sending no information to the Emperor's headquarters. 
He allowed Bagration to retreat unmolested, and as 
Napoleon wrote to him on the 4th July, " compromised 
all the success of the campaign on the right. It is 
impossible to wage war thus." 

Meanwhile Bagration left Volkovisk on the 28th June, 
collected his corps at Zelva by the 30th, and next day 
Bagration's continued his march to Slonim. Continuing 
Retreat ]^jg retreat in accordance with Barclay's 
instructions, Bagration reached Novogrudok on the 
3rd July, and passed the Niemen at Nikolaev on the 4t}\ 


and 5tli, with tlie intention of marctiing on Vileika. But 
hearing from Platov that Davout was at Vishnev with an 
army said to be 60,000 strong, and having information 
of the enemy's appearance at Zelva in his rear and in 
the direction of Grodno on his flank, he recrossed the 
river, intending to march by Novi-Sverzhen on Minsk, 
and assembled his forces at Karlichi. Hearing from 
Platov that he had communication with Dorokhov, who 
had reached Kamen, he directed him and that general to 
occupy Volozhin and effect a junction with him (Bagra- 
tion) at Minsk. But on arriving next day at Mir, Bagra- 
tion heard from Dorokhov that the French were in great 
force at Minsk, and, wishing to avoid a general action, 
according to his instructions, he again changed his route, 
taking the road by Nyesvizh and Slutzk to Bobruisk. 
On the 8th July the whole of his army was concentrated 
at Nyesvizh. Platov with his Cossack flying column 
reached Mir on the Oth, and there made a stand against 
the enemy's advanced cavalry, afterwards continuing to 
cover the retreat of Bagration's army through Slutzk 
on 13th, and Bobruisk. 

King Jerome had not sent his cavalry on under Latour- 
Maubourg from Grodno until 4th July, and this was at 
Pursuit of Novogrudok on the 8th, the same day that 
Bagration Davout reached Minsk, for the enemy whom 
Bagration had heard of at that place were only 
advanced troops. 


Jerome reached Novogrudok with two corps on the 
11th, and Nyesvizh on the 14th, his other two corps 
following and watching their right flank, exposed to Tor- 
massov in Volhynia. But Bagration, although he had 
not yet effected a junction with the First Army, had 
escaped the danger of being surrounded by Davout 
and Jerome. Schwarzenberg was now at Prushani and 
Eeynier approaching Slonim. Eugene, nearing Smorgoni, 
was in a position to join either Jerome or Davout. 

During this period the troops had suffered much from 
the extraordinary heat which set in in the early days of 
Weather ^^ty 5 many officers and men succumbed, 
Conditions t^]^]q the Emperor himself was prostrated. 
This weather, and the heavy rain that preceded it, was 
among the causes of the slowness of Jerome's move- 
ments, while at every point difficulties of supply and 
transport were met with. Owing to the state of the 
roads from rain towards the end of June the baggage 
could not keep up with the troops, and not only supplies, 
but transport to enable them to follow the army, had to 
be provided at Grodno. The troops had to subsist 
mainly on meat alone. It was not until the 10th July 
that Jerome was able to assemble his main army, re- 
duced to a strength of 45,000 men, at Nyesvizh, distant 
200 versts from Grodno, and he considered it necessary 
to keep his troops concentrated, as Bagration was falsely 
reported to be have 100,000 men. 


Want of provisions and forage was experienced im- 
mediately after the crossing of the Niemen. Thousands 
of horses died from being fed on green corn, 
o/supply^ The army, ill supplied with provisions, lived 
andTran- qj^ the scanty resources of the country, and 
the men took to plunder and insubordination, 
which undermined discipline and resulted in large 
numbers of stragglers. Immense convoys of bullocks had 
followed the army, the greater number in droves, others 
harnessed to the provision waggons ; but while many 
reached Vilna and Minsk, few got so far as Smolensk ; 
they could not keep up with the armies. While Dantzig 
contained enough grain to supply the army, the rivers 
had been depended upon for transporting it. But the 
Vilna was so dried up as to be unnavigable for the 
lighters. An attempt was made to organise a transport 
corps of Lithuanian carriages at Vilna, where 500 were 
collected, but they proved useless. By the time the 
provisions which had been stopped at Kovno reached 
Vilna, the army had left that place. 

Napoleon's first great manoeuvre — the piercing of the 
Russian line and the consequent separation of their 
forces — was successfully completed when his 
centre crossed the Niemen and advanced to 
Vilna. But with Bagration's escape from a combined 
attack by the armies of Davout and Jerome, which must 
have crushed him out of existence, the second part of the 


operation failed. Bagration, altliougli lie had not yet 
effected a junction with. Barclay de Tolly, was no longer 
in danger of being surrounded when he passed through 
Slutzk on the 13th July. 

The failure to destroy Bagration was due in the first 
instance to Jerome's dilatory movements. Already on 
the 15th June Napoleon had written to him : "As soon 
as I have crossed the Niemen, I shall perhaps decide to 
march on Vilna, exposing my flank to Bagration's army. 
You must therefore follow him closely, so that you may 
take part in the movement I shall execute against this 
army. Should I succeed in separating it from the other 
Russian troops and fall upon its right flank, you must 
be in a position to attack it simultaneously." 

The expected situation might have been brought about 
during the first few days of July, when Davout moved 
south-east from Vilna. But while Bagration's move- 
ments and position were not known, Davout did not push 
forward sufficiently; Jerome had neither appreciated 
the situation, nor followed Bagration closely according 
to his instructions. Jerome reached Grodno too late, 
and then failed to push forward and make up for 
lost time, for he did not leave that place until the 4th 
July, when Bagration had already passed Novogrudok ; 
and Davout lingered at Oshmiani. 

Jerome certainly had great difficulties to contend with 
in respect of supply and transport. But those difficulties 


would not have stopped a capable and energetic com- 
mander. We may call to mind Napoleon's own saying : 
" It rains, but that does not stop the march of the Grand 
Army." It is not surprising then that we find Napoleon 
writing on the 5th July : " All my manoeuvres have mis- 
carried and the finest opportunity ever offered in war 
has been missed by this extraordinary disregard of first 
military principles." Again on the 11th July, to Jerome : 
" As you had no information of the forces Bagration had 
left in Volhynia, as you were ignorant how many divi- 
sions he had with him, as you did not even take up the 
pursuit, and he was able to retreat as quietly as if no one 
were behind him ; all this being contrary to the usual 
practice of war, it is not extraordinary that things 
should be as they are." 

Too late the Emperor placed Davout in command of 
Jerome's army, and the latter left for his kingdom of 
Westphalia. But while he rightly blamed incompetent 
subordinates, Napoleon himself was in a measure re- 
sponsible for this failure. While his vast preparations, 
and astonishing combinations revealed a brain and a 
genius in no way impaired, a certain lethargy both 
mental and physical appears to have affected him in 
some degree. He was more inclined than of old to leave 
the execution of his plans to his subordinates. His 
physical nature, at forty-three years of age, already 
showed signs of decline, and he no longer possessed his 


former capacity for resisting fatigue and the efiects of 
exertion. But while lie had undoubtedly lost much of the 
fiery energy of youth which had made him so ubiquitous 
on the battlefields of Italy, while he was no longer 
the general of Marengo, of Austerlitz, and of Jena, and 
lacked the energy to execute the wonderful conceptions 
of his brain, that brain had lost nothing of its marvellous 
power, and his mind was as capable as ever of appreciat- 
ing the circumstances that beset him. Only, where the 
general of ten years before would have hastened to the 
decisive point and insured success by his restless energy, 
the Emperor of 1812 remained quietly at Vilna and con- 
tented himself with issuing orders to incapable subordi- 
nates and leaving to them the execution of his plans. 

For their incapacity his system of centralisation, 
which destroyed all initiative in subordinates, was 
largely to blame. 

Nor can he be exonerated for having appointed Jerome 
to command an army. And it may be observed that 
failure and disaster should be visited not only upon 
those directly and immediately responsible but upon 
those responsible for appointing men to positions for 
which they are unfitted. 

The preliminary disposition of the Eussian armies was 
made on a too extensive front ; they were not strong at 
any point. Barclay de Tolly's intention from the first 
was to retreat into the Drissa camp, and it would have 


been better merely to have watched the frontier, and 
have kept the armies more concentrated. By their wide 
dispersal the Eussians laid themselves open to pene- 
tration and defeat in detail. It is scarcely necessary 
to observe that the Eussians were bound to retreat. 
The direction of Barclay's retreat was faulty, but was of 
course dictated by the position of the fortified camp at 
Drissa. This furnishes an example of the wrong use 
of fortifications, which should be disposed to assist 
the mobile army, and not made a primary factor of 
defence so as to immobilise troops or draw them of! in 
a wrong strategical direction. A retreat direct by the 
Smolensk road, which would have drawn him more 
towards Bagration and enabled him to co-operate with 
that general, would have been better. 



Napoleon's Plan — The Russians at Drissa — Oudinot's Advance — 
Macdonald's Movements — Napoleon leaves Vilna — The 
Movement towards Vitebsk — Action at Ostrovno — Napoleon 
at Ostrovno — Operations at Vitebsk — Forward Movement — 
Operations against Bagration — Oudinot and Wittgenstein — 
Movements of Schwarzenberg — Comments 

When lie realised that Bagration liad escaped, Napoleon 
planned to follow Barclay de Tolly with the corps of 
Napoleon's Murat, Ney and Oudinot, whilst Eugene and 
^^^" Davout, the latter now in command of 

Jerome's army, advanced on Polotzk and Vitebsk, to 
threaten the Russian line of communications with 
St Petersburg and Moscow. 

The First Russian Army had retreated to the Dwina 
and occupied the fortified camp of Drissa between 

the 9th and 11th July. But that camp was 
Russians at untenable. Its strategical situation, to one 

side of all the main roads leading mto the 

interior, rendered it useless, while it was faulty also 

from a tactical point of view, being situated in a bend 

on the west side of the River Dwina, and in close 



proximity to an extensive forest, under cover of wliicli 
an enemy could mass his forces. 

The Tzar had been with Barclay at Polotzk, where he 
left the army in order to go to St Petersburg and Moscow, 
to excite the nation to a general armament and resistance, 
and to organise a militia. 

Considering the Drissa camp untenable, Barclay de 
Tolly evacuated it, crossed the Dwina on the 14th July, 
and took up a position on the right bank of the river, 
while his cavalry later engaged that of the advancing 

This day Napoleon was still at Vilna. Murat, with 
the head of the Centre Army, had advanced by Vidzy 
to Zamosha, his cavalry being pushed forward towards 
Drissa and Druya. Ney, following in support, reached 
Drisviati. Oudinot reconnoitred Dinaburg, decided 
Oudinot's ^^^^ ^^^ ^^^^ ^^^^ would be entailed in attack- 
Advance jj^g j-t would be too great, and turned up the 
left bank of the Dwina in the direction of Druya. His 
advance on Dinaburg elicited a reproof from Napoleon : 
" The Emperor has viewed with astonishment and regret 
your movement on Dinaburg without orders. If you 
supposed the Russian army to be there, you exposed 
your corps without reason. If you knew the Russian 
army was not there, your march is still more blameable ; 
you exposed your right to attack from Drissa. The 
Emperor ordered you to go to Solok." 


Macdonald, in accordance with instructions issued on 
the 9tli July, was to marcli on Jacobstadt and Friedrich- 
Macdonald's s^^^^5 ^^^ threaten to pass the Dwina there. 
Movements jjg -^^^^ reached Ponjeviezh. He was told 
that the first object of his corps was to protect the navi- 
gation of the Niemen ; his second — to contain the garri- 
son of Riga " consisting of thirty battalions of this year's 
recruits and unworthy of consideration " ; his third — to 
pass the Drissa between Riga and Dinaburg, to disturb 
the enemy ; his fourth — to occupy Courland, and pre- 
serve that province intact since it held so many supplies 
for the army ; finally, as soon as the right moment 
arrived, to pass the Dwina, blockade Riga, to call up the 
siege train and begin the siege of that place, which was 
important to secure winter quarters and to give a point 
of support on this great river. These were " not posi- 
tive orders but only general instructions, because the 
distance is very great and will become greater." 

Jerome was this day, 14th July, at Nyesvizh ; he 
received orders placing him under Davout, and he 
resigned his command. The cavalry of Latour-Maubourg 
was in advance. Schwarzenburg was at Ruzhani. 
Bagration, retreating before this advance, had left Slutzk 
for Bobruisk ; Davout was approaching Mohilev. 
Tormassov was at Lutzk, and Reynier was ordered 
back from Nyesvizh to cover Poland. 

The general eliect of all these movements will be 



observed to be — a concentration of the Russian armies 
towards Vitebsk and Smolensk, to cover Moscow ; and 
a general advance of the French in pursuit, clearing 
the country as they proceeded, and providing for the 
protection of flanks and rear. 

Napoleon's plan was to operate with his right, avoiding 
any attack on Dinaburg and Drissa, and by this move- 
Napoleon nient to render untenable all the fortifica- 
leaves Vilna tions established by the enemy during the 
past three months. He knew that this movement 
alone would bring about the evacuation of Drissa, 
and he hoped to attack them on the march. He 
left Vilna on the evening of the 16th, and reached 
Sventziani next morning. Hearing from Murat that 
the enemy had countered across the Dwina, and consider- 
ing that this might indicate a general offensive movement 
on the part of the Russian First Army, he ordered the 
advance to stop ; but later information pointing to 
Barclay's continued retreat, he directed the advance to 
proceed. Continuing his journey, Napoleon reached 
Glubokoye at midday on the 18th, and gave orders for the 
continued movement of his centre on Vitebsk. Eugene 
was to move on Kamen in the same direction. 

Barclay de Tolly, leaving Korf's corps at Drissa and 
Palen's at Disna, reached Polotzk on the 17th. On the 
20th he marched on in two columns, which joined at 
Vitebsk on the 23rd. The corps left behind at Drissa 


and Disna followed; but Wittgenstein was detached 
to form tlie right wing of the army in the neighbour- 
hood of Drissa. The main French army 
Movement ^^^° concentrated towards Vitebsk. Murat, 

v'T h^lc ^^^ Ney's corps, three divisions of Davout's, 
and Nansouty's and Montbrun's cavalry, 
marched from Zamoshi on Disna, where Montbrun 
crossed the Dwina on the 22nd July, and continued his 
advance on Bieshenkovichy ; while Oudinot, reaching 
Drissa the same day, moved on Polotzk. The Guard 
and Eugene's corps, marching by Glubokoye and Dok- 
shitzi respectively, crossed the Ula at Bochyekovo, and 
reached Bieshenkovichy at the same time as Murat, on 
the 24th, and St Cyr's Bavarians marched to Ushach. 
Napoleon's headquarters were established at Bieshen- 
kovichy ^ on the evening of the 24th July. 

Barclay de Tolly in the first instance decided to give 
battle before Vitebsk. Hearing that the French were 
advancing on both banks of the Dwina, he, on the 24th 
July, detached Lieutenant- General Count Osterman- 
Tolstoi (who had succeeded Count Shuvalov) with the 

^ Napoleon established his headquarters in Count Boutenev's 
mansion. When staying at the mansion in 1892, the present 
writer saw there an old servant, over a hundred years of age, who 
had attended the Emperor, and well remembered how he gave 
a banquet to a glittering assemblage of his officers in the central 
hall of the house. Well might the old man say, like B^ranger's 
peasant, " Children, through this village I saw him ride, followed 
by kings." 


4t]i Infantry Corps and some cavalry to Ostrovno, to 
hold back tlie enemy and gain time. Seven versts from 
Vitebsk, Osterman met Nansouty's advanced troops, 
which were driven back by his cavalry and pursued as 
far as Ostrovno. Next morning Murat advanced, driv- 
ing back Osterman' s cavalry, and found the Kussians 
in position astride the main road behind Ostrovno, their 
flanks protected by forest and marsh. The Kussian 
cavalry were quickly overthrown by a charge of Polish 
lancers and hussars ; but their infantry held their own 
and stopped the French advance until evening, when 
they fell back on the 3rd Infantry Division, posted in 
support at the village of Kakuviachin, eight versts 
from Ostrovno. 

Murat advanced next morning with Nansouty's 
corps and Delzons' division, and came up with the 
Action at Russians at eight o'clock. The Russian 
Ostrovno front was covered by a deep ravine ; their 
right flank rested on the Dwina, which was, however, 
fordable ; their left was on a thick and marshy forest. 

The French skirmishers advanced to the edge of the 
ravine, and engaged the Russians ; while Delzons made 
dispositions to attack both their flanks and centre ; 
some of Murat's cavalry crossed the Dwina to turn their 
right wing. The attack was rapidly carried out. The 
Russians repulsed the French on their left flank ; but 
were driven back on the right. The Russian General 


Konovnitzin reinforced his right with the whole of his 
reserve, which pressed the enemy's left and drove them 
across the ravine. The battle had, on the whole, 
favoured the Kussians, when Murat charged a Russian 
column which had pursued the French across the ravine, 
while a further advance of French infantry against the 
left of their position forced them to retreat. Napoleon, 
who had arrived on the scene, directed the attack to 
continue, and Konovnitzin fell back in good order from 
position to position until evening, when he with Osterman 
rejoined the main army behind the River Luchosa. A 
new Russian advanced guard was pushed forward across 
that stream. 

Napoleon bivouacked at Kakuviachin. Of the effect 
of his presence in action Segur says : " The Emperor 
Napoleon at liiniself arrived. They (Murat and Eugene) 
Ostrovno hastened to receive him, and informed him 
in a few words of what had just been done, and what 
still remained undone. Napoleon instantly went to 
the highest point of ground and nearest to the enemy ; 
and from that spot his comprehensive and ardent genius, 
levelling all the obstacles in its way, soon pierced both 
the shades of the forests and the depths of the mountains ; 
he gave his orders without the slightest hesitation, and 
these same woods which had arrested the audacity of the 
two impetuous princes were traversed from one extremity 
to the other. In short, on that very evening, from the 


top of lier double liill, Vitebsk miglit see our riflemen 
debouch into tlie plain by wbich it is surrounded." 

Barclay de Tolly, in pursuance of bis intention to give 
battle, bad taken up a position bebind tbe River Lucbosa 
Operations l^efore Vitebsk. He bad 80,000 men, and be 
at Vitebsk looped tbat Bagration would join bim from 
Mobilev by way of Orsba. But on tbe nigbt of tbe 
26tb July an aide-de-camp arrived witb information 
from Bagration tbat be bad been unable to get tbrougb 
by Mobilev, where Davout was concentrating his forces, 
and was doubtful of his ability to join the First Army 
even at Smolensk. 

Barclay de Tolly called a council of war ; it was decided 
that there was now no object in fighting at Vitebsk, as 
even a successful action would be useless should Davout 
occupy Smolensk in the meantime. Further retreat was 
therefore imperative, although that operation would be 
difficult in the presence of the enemy. Accordingly Count 
Palen with the 3rd Cavalry Corps, reinforced to a strength 
of 14 battalions, 32 squadrons, and 2 regiments of 
Cossacks with 40 guns, was directed to hold the enemy 
on the road to Vitebsk. 

With this object in view Count Palen occupied a position 
eight versts from Vitebsk, the front covered by a stream 
which fell into the Dwina, and the right flank on the 
Dwina. The left flank was quite open ; and the extent of 
the position was too great for the strength available, the 


whole fourteen battalions only numbering 4000 men. 
These were disposed in two lines, with no reserve, and 
considerable intervals between battalions. The cavalry- 
was drawn up on a small plain, where the stream fell into 
the Dwina, chequerwise in three or four lines, which led 
to considerable loss from the hostile artillery fire. 

At dawn on the 27th July Napoleon sent his troops 
forward on the road to Vitebsk, the light cavalry in front 
followed by Broussier's division. The French soon came 
in contact with the Russian rearguard, and a sharp action 
ensued, during which the Emperor himself arrived on the 
scene. But it was not until Nansouty's cavalry and 
Delzons' infantry were all engaged that the Russians 
were forced to give way. At five o'clock in the afternoon 
Palen retired behind the Luchosa. The loss on either 
side during the three days' fighting amounted to some 
3700 men. 

Barclay de Tolly had in the first instance intended to 
remain on the Luchosa only until noon this day, but 
the resistance offered by his rearguard encouraged him in 
the hope of holding the enemy on that line until evening. 
Wishing to co-operate with Palen in delaying the French, 
he reinforced him from the main body and advanced his 
left wing to threaten the enemy's right flank. 

Napoleon hoped to draw Barclay de Tolly into a 
decisive engagement. The French troops, tired with 
their long march, almost without bread and having for 


the most part nothing to eat but meat without salt, 
wished for a battle, hoping for something better. But 
the Russian general was already preparing to continue 
his retreat. At four o'clock in the morning the Russian 
army marched of! in three columns towards Smolensk 
by way of Velizh, Poryechiye and Rudnya respectively. 
Count Palen's rearguard remained on the Luchosa until 
dawn on the 28th July. Large bivouac fires burning on 
the site of the encampment convinced Napoleon that his 
expectation of engaging the main Russian army would 
be realised. 

But next day the French cavalry, taking up the pursuit, 
sustained a reverse from Palen's rearguard at Agaponov- 
Forward schina. The French troops being worn out 
Movement f^j. -^ant of provisions and exhausted with 
the heat, and Napoleon no longer seeing the possibility 
of keeping the Russian armies separated, he decided to 
halt and rest his troops. 

Napoleon's Central Army, acting against Barclay, was 
disposed as follows : — ^Headquarters and the Guard at 
Vitebsk. The Viceroy Eugene at Surazh, on the Dwina, 
formed the left wing of the army ; Murat's cavalry, with 
Ney in rear, was fronting Rudnya ; three of Davout's 
divisions were behind Ney between Babinovichy and 
Vitebsk. St Cyr was at Bieshenkovichy. In the five 
weeks which had elapsed since the passage of the Niemen, 
Napoleon had succeeded only in occupying some useless 


territory, exhausted of supplies. The want of provisions 
caused widespread disorder, and the country was filled 
with bands of marauders who had left the army. There 
had been a vast loss of transport animals and of cavalry 
horses. The corps under the immediate leadership of 
Napoleon, detailed above, which had crossed the Niemen 
200,000 strong, now numbered no more than 150,000 
men ; of the casualties not more than one-tenth had been 
killed, wounded, or made prisoners in action. 

While he was at Vitebsk Napoleon heard of the Eussian 
peace with Turkey, and of the treaty between Russia 
and Sweden. 

Barclay de Tolly continued his retreat on Smolensk, 
where he concentrated his forces and encamped on the 
right bank of the Dnieper on the 1st August, on the roads 
leading to Poryechiye and Rudnya, at each of which 
places a rearguard was posted. His army was reinforced 
there by the reserve battalions and artillery companies 
under Winzingerode. 

It is now time to direct attention to the operations 

against the Second Russian Army under Bagration, whom 

we left at Slutzk on the 13th July. The 
Operations . "^ , 

against French cavalry had kept in touch with the 

Russians, and several actions took place in 

consequence, notably one in which the Ataman Platov 

met and repulsed the French cavalry at Romano vo. 


The troops under the King of Westphalia were moving, 
Vandamme from Nyesvizh on the line Minsk-Orsha ; 
Poniatovski through Igumen on Mohilev ; and Latour- 
Maubourg, having reached Glusk, followed towards 
Mohilev on the 26th July. Kejmier's corps, as already- 
related, had been sent back to Slonim to operate against 

Davout continued his advance towards the Dnieper. 
He left Minsk on the 13th and reached Igumen on the 
15th July, and entered Mohilev on the 20th. 

In the meantime Bagration had assembled his whole 
army at Bobruisk on the 18th July, and next day received 
orders to effect a junction with the First Army by way of 
Mohilev and Orsha. But at the same time he had in- 
formation of Davout's movement on Mohilev. Hoping 
to interrupt the enemy's concentration at that place, 
Bagration sent on a detachment under Kaevski and 
followed next day with the remainder of his army. 
Raevski's cavalry fought an action with the French 
advanced troops between Stari Bikhov and Mohilev on 
the 21st July, in which 200 French were taken prisoners. 
Davout, determined to cover Mohilev, which was un- 
favourable for defence, took up an advanced position on 
the 22nd with 20,000 men at Saltanovka, where Bagration 
determined to attack him with a view to forcing a route 
by way of Mohilev and Orsha in accordance with his orders. 
The Russians attacked at eight o'clock in the morning on 


the 23rd and at first met with some slight success. But 
the French were in a strong position, their left resting 
on the Dnieper, and their front extended along a tributary 
of that river with their right thrown back. An attempt 
on their right flank failed, and the Russians were repulsed 
with a loss of 2500 men, the French losing an equal 

Next day Davout strengthened the &altanovka position 
in expectation of a further attack, but Bagration with- 
drew to Novi Bikhov and crossed the Dnieper at that place 
on the 26th July. Plato v crossed the river higher up at 
Vorkolabov, and covered the Russian left flank, marching 
through Chaousi and Borki to Rudnya while Bagration 
retreated by Cherikov and Mstislavl to join Barclay de 
Tolly at Smolensk. The junction was effected on the 
3rd August. 

It was not until the 28th July that Davout moved 
from Mohilev. He feared to cross the Dnieper lest he 
should find himself between the two hostile armies, his 
strength being so greatly reduced that he only mustered 
70,000 men. The King of Westphalia, whom Davout 
superseded, had left the army on the 16th July, and 
returned to his kingdom. Davout reached Dubrovna on 
the 2nd August. Thus at the end of July the French main 
army was extended between Surazh and Mohilev, where, 
however, Latour-Maubourg did not arrive until the 5th 


While the events that have been narrated were taking 

place, operations had been in progress between Oudinot's 

^ ^. , , corps and that of Wittgenstein, who, on the 
Oudinot and ^ . 

Wittgen- retreat of Barclay de Tolly's main army from 
Drissa to Polotzk, had been ordered to remain 
in the neighbourhood of Drissa to protect Riga and the 
country between Novgorod and the Dwina. In case of 
retreat being necessary he was to retire through Sebezh 
to Pskov, where magazines were established for the 
supply of his corps. Wittgenstein had 25,000 men and 
100 guns. 

When Napoleon advanced on Vitebsk, Oudinot's corps, 
supported later by St Cyr, was left to oppose Wittgenstein 
and threaten St Petersburg. He had some 20,000 men. 
He was on his left supported by Macdonald with 28,000 
men, who occupied Jacobstadt on the 21st July, and 
established a garrison at Dinaburg a few days later. At 
the same time Oudinot moved up the Dwina towards 
Disna and Polotzk, which he had been directed to make 
his headquarters "if circumstances permitted." On the 
26th he crossed the Dwina at Polotzk, with a view to 
taking the offensive against Wittgenstein, his instructions 
being to advance towards Sebezh and so cause the 
Russians to evacuate Drissa and Druya. 

Wittgenstein had advanced towards Druya with the 
intention of crossing the Dwina at that place, when he 
heard of the advance of Macdonald and Oudinot on both 


his flanks. This determined him to fall back on Sebezh. 
On the 30th July his advanced guard came in contact 
with that of Oudinot at Yakubovo, where an indecisive 
action took place, at the end of which the French main- 
tained their position. Wittgenstein renewed the attack 
at three o'clock the next morning, and after a hard-fought 
action drove Oudinot back two versts on Kliastitzi. 
There the French took up a second position, but they 
were defeated, their rear turned by the Russian cavalry 
and forced back to Boyarshchino behind the Drissa 
stream. Wittgenstein pursued, but his vanguard came 
into collision with the French in a strong position between 
two lakes in front of Boyarshchino and was driven back 
with heavy loss. 

Oudinot again advanced as far as Golovshchitzi ; there 
Wittgenstein, having heard of the action at Boyarshchino, 
had taken up a position with his right on the Biver 
Nishcha. He defeated the advancing French, and drove 
them back across the Drissa ; Oudinot re-entered Polotzk 
on the 3rd August. Being reinforced by St Cyr on the 
7th August, the French marshal again advanced but was 
met and defeated by Wittgenstein at Svolna on the 
11th August, and once more fell back on Polotzk, where 
he arrived on the 16th. 

In the meantime Macdonald had continued at Yakob- 
stadt and Dinaburg, while the Prussian contingent of his 
corps laid siege to Riga. 


On the extreme right Keynier and Schwarzenberg had 

been operating against Tormassov, and were at Slonim 

on the 3rd August. Napoleon directed 
Movements ^ ^ 

ofSchwar- Schwarzenberg, who commanded the whole 
^^^ forces of this flank, to march against Tor- 
massov and Kamenski, and to follow them until they 
were destroyed. On the 12th August Schwarzenberg 
attacked the Russians at Gorodechna, and after an in- 
decisive action in which Reynier's attack on the enemy's 
left flank failed, Tormassov retreated to Kobrin. 

It is clear that the Russian retirement to the Drissa 
camp was in contravention of all strategical principles. 
The two Russian armies which had been 
separated by Napoleon's advance were retiring 
on divergent lines instead of drawing nearer in order to 
efiect a junction ; while Drissa was on the flank of the 
main roads leading to the interior of the Empire. For 
this false move Barclay de Tolly was not entirely to blame, 
as has already been explained, and he rectified the error 
by moving to Vitebsk as soon as he found Drissa both 
strategically and tactically untenable. Had he lingered 
there. Napoleon would undoubtedly have closed in on him 
by his advance on Polotzk and cut off and destroyed his 
army. Who could suppose that a position that had taken 
months to prepare would be so soon evacuated ; or in- 
stead of ordering his movement on Polotzk in order to 
destroy Barclay's army, Napoleon might otherwise have 


adopted a more central line of advance and occupied 
Vitebsk before the Russians reached that place. 

But the Emperor wrote on the 15th July that he " does 
not intend to attack the enemy either in their intrenched 
camp at Dinaburg or in their intrenched camp at Drissa ; 
he intends to turn their positions, render them untenable, 
and attack the enemy on the march." 

Arrived at Vitebsk, Barclay de Tolly intended to give 
battle, expecting the co-operation of Bagration, who had 
been ordered to march on Orsha. It was fortunate that 
the former heard that Bagration had been obliged to 
change the direction of his march in time to extricate 
his army and retire on Smolensk. 

Bagration's retreat was boldly executed, and his ofien- 
sive movement against Davout was not without effect in 
keeping that general on the right bank of the Dnieper. 



Napoleon at Vitebsk — Distribution of the French Forces — 
Russians assume the Offensive — Skirmish at Inkovo — French 
Dispositions — Russian Movements — Napoleon's Advance — 
Passage of the Dnieper — Cavalry Action at Krasnoi — 
Russian Dispositions — Comments 

Napoleon remained at Vitebsk until the 13tli August. 
But in the meantime the Russians assumed the initiative. 
Napoleon at They were now concentrated at Smolensk 
Vitebsk to the number of 120,000 men. The French 
on the front Polotzk-Vitebsk-Mohilev were reduced to 

On the 6th August Barclay de Tolly called a council of 
war. The Tzar, the nation and the army were all de- 
manding a cessation of the retreat which had already 
abandoned so much territory to the invaders. The 
Russian general knew that his forces were insufficient for 
decisive action. But it was decided to adopt the offensive. 

While Barclay had been retreating to Smolensk, 
Napoleon had been employed in resting his army and 
seeing to supply. Many stragglers rejoined ; the artillery 
parks and waggons, which had been left far in rear, arrived 



at Vitebsk ; the corps commanders collected seven days' 

provisions in the country. The Russian magazines seized 

in Surazh and Velizh served for the 4th Corps and the 

Guard. For the passage of the Dnieper and preservation 

of communications with Davout's troops, Napoleon 

ordered the construction of four bridges at Rasasna. 

When the Russian armies retreated on Smolensk, the 

French were disposed as follows : — The Guard and one 

of Davout's divisions stood at Vitebsk, 

o/the " ^°" where Napoleon had his headquarters in the 

French Governor-General's house. Two divisions of 

the same corps were at Pavlovichy, between 

Vitebsk and Babinovichy ; the 4th Corps, Eugene's, was 

at Velizh and Surazh ; Murat's cavalry reserve, Mont- 

brun's and Grouchy's corps (with the exception of Dou- 

merc's cuirassier division which was with Oudinot) at 

Rudnya, with Sebastiani's division as advanced guard at 

Inkovo ; Ney's corps in rear of the cavalry at Liozna. 

Davout's remaining two divisions were on the Dnieper 

between Babinovichy and Dubrovna ; the 8th (West- 

phalian) Corps under Junot was at Orsha ; the 5th (Polish) 

Corps of Poniatovski at Mohilev ; Latour-Maubourg's 

Cavalry Corps and Dombrovski's Polish division were 

detached from Mohilev to observe Bobruisk and the 

Russian General Ertel's corps, which was at Mozyr. 

These troops, on the 3rd August, numbered 156,886 

infantry and 36,722 cavalry, altogether 193,000 men, or 



excluding Latour-Maubourg's and Dombrovski's troops 
acting separately, the main strength of the French army 
for operations towards Smolensk was 182,608 men. 

Napoleon intended, covered by the forests and marshes 
between the opposing forces, to execute a flank move- 
ment to his right, cross the Dnieper at Rasasna, seize 
Smolensk, and thus turning the Russian left, cut their 
line of retreat to Moscow and destroy them. 

The Russian armies left Smolensk for their offensive 
movement in three coluimis on the 7th August, leaving 
„ . only one regiment to garrison the city. The 

assume the Second Army, 30,000 strong, passing through 
Smolensk on the right bank of the Dnieper, 
formed the left column along the bank of the river 
to the village of Katan, and the First Army, 70,000, 
marched in two columns, the left, under Dokhturov, 
moving by the Rudnya road on Prikaz Vidra ; the right, 
under Tuchkov, by the Poryechiye road to Zhukovo, and 
afterwards to the left by Shchegolyeva on Kovalevskoye. 
Each column furnished its own advanced guard. 

A detachment of a division of infantry with some 
cavalry and fourteen guns, under General Olenin, had 
been posted at Krasnoi to observe the road from Orsha. 
On the right flank of the advancing army a detachment 
under Prince Shakhovski marched on Kasplya, and 
Krasnov's Cossacks on Kholm. Another detachment 
furnished from both armies, under Baron Rosen, pre- 


served communication between Bagration and Dokbturov, 
marching on the village of Chaburi. Platov's advanced 
troops stayed that day at Zarubenka, so as not to expose 
the general advance of the Russian armies. 

During the night Barclay de Tolly heard from Baron 
Winzingerode, who was with a detachment at Velizh, that 
the enemy was assembling in force at Poryechiye. This 
information was sufficient to cause further vacillation 
on the part of the Russian general, whose timidity was, 
perhaps, justified by the great forces and renown of his 
opponent. He concluded that Napoleon intended to 
move from Poryechiye on Smolensk and cut him ofi from 
Moscow ; and he decided to abandon the offensive and 
turn his attention exclusively to the security of his right 
flank. He wrote to the Tzar : " Having a skilful and 
cunning opponent, able to take advantage of every 
circumstance, I find myself under the necessity of observ- 
ing the strictest rules of caution." Accordingly on the 
8th August a great part of the First Army (three infantry 
and one cavalry corps) was transferred to Lavrova and 
Stabna on the Poryechiye road ; the remaining part 
(two infantry and two cavalry corps), under command 
of Dokhturov, was posted at Prikaz Vidra, whither the 
Second Army was also directed to march. In this situa- 
tion, Barclay wrote to the Tzar, " both our armies 
will be only one march from one another ; the road to 
Moscow and the whole region between the sources of the 


Dwina and Dnieper will be covered, and supplies will be 
secured by the facility of transporting them from Velikia 
Luki, and Toropetz and Bieyloi." By the occupation of 
the road to Poryechiye he " would be able to strike the 
enemy's left flank with superior forces, to open com- 
munications with the Upper Dwina and cover Wittgen- 
stein's left wing. Such a position has undoubted 
advantages and gives complete freedom of action 
according to circumstances." 

The abandonment of the offensive by Barclay de Tolly 
pleased neither his staff nor the army in general. Bagra- 
tion considered that there was more danger to be appre- 
hended on the left than on the right flank of the Eussian 
army. Displeasure manifested itself throughout the 
army, where it was thought that the indecision of the 
Commander-in-Chief deprived the army of the prospect 
of victory ; some even accused him of treachery. The 
small successes which the Russian advanced troops had 
obtained in desultory actions had raised their spirits 
and inspired them with confidence. 

On the 8th August the Ataman Platov attacked the 
French at Molevo Boloto near Inkovo with his Cossacks 
Skirmish at ^^^ some cavalry and infantry supports, 
Inkovo taking 300 prisoners and seizing Sebastiani's 
papers, from which it was found that the French were 
aware of the Russian concentration towards Rudnya. 
Again treachery was suspected, but it was discovered 


that tlie information had been obtained through the letter 
of a Russian oflGlcer to his mother, in whose house near 
Rudnya Murat was quartered. 

On the 9th August the Russians continued their flank 
movement ; Dokhturov moved to Moshchinki, where 
headquarters were established ; Platov retreated to 
Gavriki ; the Second Army moved to Prikaz Vidra, its 
advanced guard, under Major-General Vasilchikov, stand- 
ing at Volokova on Platov's left. 

Napoleon, hearing of the skirmish at Molevo Boloto, 
took immediate measures to concentrate in order to 
French oppose the expected Russian advance. He 
Dispositions directed Ney and Murat to hold the enemy 
back on the Rudnya road ; three divisions of Davout's 
from Vitebsk and the 4th (Eugene's) Corps were sent to 
join Murat and Ney at Liozna ; Davout, Junot (West- 
phalians) and Poniatovski with his Poles and Latour- 
Maubourg's cavalry were to concentrate between Rasasna 
and Liubavichy. Thus 178,000 men could be collected 
in two days — or by the 10th August — on a front of thirty 
versts between Liozna and Liubavichy, or between 
Babinovichy and Dubrovna. Dombrovski with 6000 
remained in Mohilev. 

While tho Russian First Army remained on the 
Poryechiye road, the Second Army marched from Prikaz 
Vidra to Smolensk on the 12th August on Bagration's 
initiative, the excuse given being the want of good water, 


whicli was a difficulty with both opposing armies owing 
to the prolonged summer heat. Bagration wished to 
Russian protect his left flank being turned by the 
Movements occupation of Smolensk. His advanced 
guard, under Vasilchikov, remained at Volokova ; with 
a support of a grenadier division and eight squadrons 
of lancers under Prince Gorchakov at Debritza. 

This movement took place just when Barclay was 
preparing to renew his advance on Kudnya. On the 
14th August his army was disposed between Volokova 
and Lake Kasplya, with headquarters at Gavriki ; he 
expected the French to attack on the 15th August, 
Napoleon's birthday. Two corps of Bagration's army 
again left Smolensk and marched to Katan. 

Napoleon now saw that the Russian advance had 
ceased with the occupation of the Volokova position, and 
Napoleon's ^^ order to cut them off from Moscow by the 
Advance occupation of Smolensk he executed a flank 
movement to the passages of the Dnieper at Kasasna and 
Khomino with the army under his immediate leadership, 
while the corps under Davout moved from Orsha and 
Mobile V towards Rasasna and Romano vo. 

Napoleon left Vitebsk before daybreak on the 13th 
August and stopped for a time at a house in Babinovichy ; 
resuming his journey on horseback, he arrived at Rasasna 
in the evening. Eye-witnesses described him as distin- 
guished by the plainness of his attire in the midst of 


a glittering staff. At Rasasna he entered the house of a 
Jew, Hirsch Yudkin, but, finding it unfit for habitation, 
had his five -roomed tent pitched. He rode round to see 
his troops and afterwards had a long interview with 
Davout, who had just arrived. Later in the evening, 
bareheaded, at times clasping his hand to his head, 
buried in deep thought, he paced up and down a path in 
the forest. Close by is still shown a chasm into which 
numbers of corpses of the French were thrown during 
the retreat from Moscow. Here the waters of the 
Boristhenes, which the Eomans had known only by their 
defeats, were passed by the legions of the great Emperor. 

The troops, detailed, crossed the Dnieper at Rasasna 
and Khomino on the 13th and 14th August, joining the 
Passage of f ^ces of Davout, Poniatovski and Junot, so 
the Dnieper ^j^g^^ ^^ j^]^q latter date Napoleon stood on 
the left bank of the Dnieper with 185,000 men : 
by a movement on Smolensk he hoped to cut the 
Russian communications with Moscow. Only Sebastiani's 
light cavalry division remained on the right bank of the 
river for the march to Smolensk. 

At dawn Murat with the cavalry corps of Grouchy, 

Nansouty and Montbrun, 15,000 strong, reached Liadi, 

_ , drove out a Russian detachment, and rode on 


Action at to Krasnoi, where Neverovski had taken up 

a position with one of Bagration's divisions. 

The Russians fell back to Koritniya, holding off the 


French cavalry, but suffering heavy losses during the 

Barclay de Tolly heard of this action on the night 
of the 14th August. But he still did not know that 
Napoleon had made a change of front, had crossed the 
Dnieper and was turning his left flank, which he had 
thought secured by that river. The only movement 
Russian made was to send Raevksi with his corps back 
Dispositions ^q Smolensk, with orders to march to the 
support of Neverovski on the Krasnoi road. But 
he decided in consultation with Bagration that the 
latter should cross the Dnieper at Katan to oppose the 
enemy on the left bank, the First Army supporting him, 
following the French army and protecting the country 
between the Dnieper and Dwina. He wrote to the Tzar 
on the 15th : " Although the enemy's movement to the 
Dnieper and on the left bank of the river, by which he 
abandons almost the whole region between the Dwina 
and the Dnieper, gives cause for astonishment ; as soon 
as I satisfy myself as to his real intentions, I shall not 
neglect to arrange operations according to actual circum- 
stances, and I shall so dispose the army that it will 
always, while in a position to support the Second Army, 
at the same time hold the country between the Dwina and 
the Dnieper." But he was soon obliged to change his 
plan of operations, and to hurry all the troops back to 


Raevski reached Smolensk at dawn on the 15th August, 
left by the Krasnoi road, and joined Neverovski at two 
o'clock in the afternoon in front of the city. Before night- 
fall the Cossacks were driven in by the advancing French, 
and soon the hostile masses were seen to occupy a position 
for the night on the Russian front. Raevski, seeing that 
he would be surrounded, decided to retire and take up a 
position to defend Smolensk itself. 

In the phase of the operations between Vitebsk and 

Smolensk there were two movements of special interest 

— the Russian offensive advance, and 

Napoleon s great flank movement across 

the Dnieper to the south of Smolensk. 

The Russian offensive was well conceived but badly 
executed. Vacillation and irresolution were evident 
in the Russian counsels ; the ablest conceived plans 
will not command success unless carried through with 

In advancing on Smolensk, Napoleon hoped to master 
the Russian commxmications with Moscow, as he had 
done in the case of the Austrians at Marengo in 1800. 
He was, in fact, carrying out a favourite strategical 
manoeuvre, which was splendid in conception and might 
have been decisive in result. He knew that the Russians 
had advanced from Smolensk, and he arrived before that 
place twenty-four hours ahead of them. They had, 
however, thrown a small force behind the strong walls of 


the city, and it was not due to any fault either of con- 
ception or execution that Napoleon's plan failed. The 
place was sufficiently strong, as will be seen in the next 
chapter, to enable a small force to hold it until the main 
Russian army arrived. 



Smolensk — Raevski's defensive Measures — Napoleon arrives 
before Smolensk — French Dispositions — Russian Plans — 
Bagration's Retreat — Attack on Smolensk — Russian Retire- 
ment — ^Napoleon enters Smolensk — Barclay's Retreat con- 
tinued — Action at Lubino — Comments — The Decision to 
advance on Moscow 

The town of Smolensk lies on botli banks of the River 

Dnieper ; its main portion is built on the left bank, 

which, in the town itself descends rapidly to 
Smolensk . . ^ ^ 

the river ; the wide St Petersbui'g suburb is 

situated on the right bank, which commands the left. 
The town itself is surrounded by an ancient crenellated 
wall, built of stone and brick in the time of Godunov, 
having a circumference of more than five versts, a height 
of 25 to 40 feet, and a width of 10 to 18 feet. For flank 
defence thirty-six bastions had been built, but only 
seventeen of these remained intact in 1812. A penta- 
gonal earthen bastion had been constructed by King 
Sigismund after the capture of the place by the Poles in 
1611, on the western side of the town between the Krasnoi 
and Mstislavl suburbs. The exterior ditch of this citadel 
(known as the King's Bastion) was dry ; the interior — 



a wet ditch, crossed by a bridge. The ditch surrounding 
the town wall was not deep, and had been dug only to 
obtain the earth required for the glacis. Some emplace- 
ments had been made for guns behind the wails, and there 
was a covered way. Smolensk has three gates : the first, 
at the junction of the roads from Krasnoi, Mstislavl and 
Eoslavl, is called the Malakhov; to its west lies the 
Mstislavl suburb ; and to the east of this gate and of the 
Mstislavl road extend the Eoslavl andNikolskoye suburbs; 
the last communicates with the city through the Nikol- 
skoye gate ; farther, on the north-eastern side of the town 
by the river, lies the Kachenka suburb, through which 
passes the road through Shein Ostrog to Prudishchevo. 
Near these two villages are fords of the Dnieper — the one 
four and the other eight versts from Smolensk. The 
third entrance — the Dnieper gate — is turned towards 
the river. Besides these gates there are two passages 
through the walls : one to the left of the Dnieper gate, 
known as the Dnieper passage ; the other, at the north- 
eastern corner near the river, the Rachenka passage. 
These were constructed on the occasion of the visit of the 
Empress Catherine II., for whose carriage the Dnieper 
and Malakhov gates were too narrow. An earthwork, 
constructed by the order of Peter the Great, covered the 
wooden bridge which communicated from the town to 
the right bank of the Dnieper. This work was under fire 
from the right bank of the river. 


On the east and west the defence cf Smolensk is 
strengthened by the Rachevka and Churilovka streams, 
flowing through deep ravines into the Dnieper near the 
Eachenka and Krasnoi suburbs. In the town itself 
three small streams run in similar deep ravines. 

In expectation of the enemy's appearance, Raevski had 

disposed his troops as follows for the defence : — three 

regiments in the Krasnoi suburb and covered 

Defensive way to the right of the King's Bastion, with 

TV/| A3 eii f/ae 

two guns commanding the approach. Three 
regiments and eight guns occu|)ied the King's Bastion. 
Four regiments and twenty-four guns held the Mstislavl 
suburb. Two regiments and twenty -four guns were in 
the Roslavl suburb and in the cemetery in front. One 
regiment and four guns in the Nikolskoye suburb. Two 
regiments in reserve. Two regiments and four guns at 
the bridge over the Dnieper. Finally, twelve squadrons 
of cavalry were posted for observation on the left flank. 
At eight o'clock in the morning of 16th August Ney's 
corps and Murat's cavalry arrived within cannon-shot 

of Smolensk. Ney's corps deployed against 
arrives^°" the Krasnoi and Mstislavl suburbs with their 

before j^f^ flank on the Dnieper and their right on 

Smolensk ^ \ ° 

the Mstislavl road, while Grouchy's cavalry 

drove the Russian cavalry into the Nikolskoye suburb. 

Napoleon himself arrived at nine o'clock, when Davout's 

corps began to approach. Ney moved a body of his 


troops to attack, and himself led an assault on the 
King's Bastion. But the position was a strong one ; 
reinforcements were hurrying into Smolensk, and the 
Eussians held their own, Bagration arriving by midday, 
while Barclay de Tolly reached the place before nightfall, 
and took up a position on the high ground on the right 
bank of the Dnieper. The French during the day 
limited themselves to a cannonade of the suburbs and 
to feeble attacks, and at night encamped in a semi- 
circle round the town. Napoleon had hoped that 
the Russians would come out and give battle in front 
of the town, and consequently the attack was not 
pressed. On the evening of the 16th August the 
French troops were disposed as follows : — On the 
French ^^^^ wing, opposite the Krasnoi suburb, three 
Dispositions divisions of Ney ; in the centre, opposite 
the Mstislavl and Nikolskoye suburbs, five of Davout's 
divisions ; on the right, opposite Rachenka, Poniatovski's 
two divisions ; and farther to the right, near the Dnieper, 
Murat's three cavalry corps. The Guard stood in reserve 
in the centre. Eugene's corps was still between Krasnoi 
and Koritniya, and Junot's had lost the way and did 
not arrive until evening. 

The Russians generally considered that the time had 
now arrived to put an end to the advance of the 
French. But Barclay de Tolly with more reason saw 
the danger of opposing at this point a superior enemy 


who was ill a position to threaten his line of com- 
munications with Moscow by crossing the Dnieper at 
Russian Prudishchevo. He decided to continue the 
Plans retreat along the Moscow road, covered 

by a corps of 20,000 men holding Smolensk under 
General Dokhturov, who relieved Raevski at dawn on 
the 17th August. Dokhturov posted a division in the 
Krasnoi and the King's Bastion ; another in the centre 
to defend the Mstislavl and Roslavl suburbs ; a third 
division formed the left wing in the Nikolskoye and 
Rachenka, in front of the left flank of which the cavalry 
was posted near the Dnieper ; whilst a division was held 
in reserve near the Malakhov gate. The artillery was 
distributed in the King's Bastion, the terrace of the Mala- 
khov gate, on the bastions and in the Mstislavl suburb. 
Two pontoon bridges were thrown across the Dnieper to 
provide additional communication with the right bank, 
where strong batteries were posted above and below 
Smolensk to enfilade the enemy in case they should 
attack the western or eastern side of the town. 

Bagration began his retreat at four o'clock in the 
morning on the 17th August, and took up a position 
Bagration's behind the Kolodnya stream, eight versts 
Retreat from Smolensk, Barclay's army remaining 
in the vicinity of the city. Skirmishing in the suburbs 
of Smolensk began at daybreak, and at eight o'clock 
Dokhturov made a sortie from the town into the suburbs 


and drove out the enemy. Until three in the afternoon 
the action was limited to cannonade and musketry, and 
the French fire was not directed on the town. Napoleon 
still hoped that the Russians, having possession of 
Smolensk and being able to pass the Dnieper freely under 
cover of its strong walls, would cross over and give 
battle to protect the town. 

Napoleon, about midday, receiving information from 
the right flank of his position of the movement of consider- 
able Russian forces on the Moscow road, went to the 
village of Shein-ostrog and personally convinced himself 
of Bagration's retreat. He then proposed to cross the 
Dnieper above Smolensk and envelop the Russian left. 
But in order to carry out this project the whole army 
would have to ford the river, for if any attempts were 
made to construct bridges the Russians would oppose 
them at the selected points, or, passing through Smolensk, 
would assail the flank and rear of the French army ; in 
any case the construction of bridges would take so much 
time that the Russians would be able to decline battle 
and retreat by the Moscow road. Napoleon, after con- 
sidering these circumstances, sent some scouts to look 
for fords, but none were found. The only alternative 
was to take Smolensk. 

The attack began at three o'clock in the afternoon, 
when the French cavalry overthrew the Russian dragoons 
and drove them headlong into the town through the 


Malakhov gate, killing their general, Skalon. Ponia- 
tovski then attacked the Nikolskoye suburb and the 
Attack on Rachenka, with his right flank on the Dnieper, 
Smolensk ^j^^ established a battery of sixty guns on 
the bank of the river. The suburbs were fired in 
several places, and the Poles reached the wall of the 
town, attempted to storm, but were driven back with 
heavy loss. Ney in the meantime got possession of 
the Krasnoi suburb. Davout attacked and gained the 
Mstislavl and Eoslavl suburbs after a stubborn fight, 
but the walls of the city proved an insuperable obstacle. 
Fierce assaults were concentrated against the Malakhov 
gate, but time after time the French were driven back. 
Finally towards evening the attacks ceased, and the 
assailants contented themselves with a cannonade which 
did much damage and fired the town in many places. 
Another assault at seven o'clock failed, and by nine the 
battle ceased. The French had lost some 6000 and the 
Russians 4000 men. 

A fearful night succeeded the day. The Russians 
could no longer hold out amid the burning ruins which 
surrounded them, and Barclay de Tolly ordered the 
evacuation of the town. Dokhturov marched two hours 
before dawn, taking his artillery, after burning the 
bridges across the Dnieper. 

Barclay's army assembled in position on both sides 
of the Poryechiye road, with the left flank on the village 



of Krakliotkina, leaving a rearguard in the St Peters- 
burg suburb to cover the retreat of the last defenders 
Russian ^f Smolensk. The town, which was nearly 
Retirement ^jj i3Tir]2t, was evacuated not only by the 
troops but by the inhabitants, so that when Napoleon 
entered it next morning by the Nikolskoye gate he 

found little besides a blackened heap of 

enters ruins. Ney sent some Wurtemberg and 

Portuguese battalions across the river to 
occupy the St Petersburg suburb, but the Russian rear- 
guard, being reinforced, drove them back, and held 
the suburb throughout the day on the 18th August. 

That morning Bagration continued his retreat by the 
Moscow road to Pneva Sloboda, near Solo vy ova, leaving 
a detachment under Prince Gorchakov to remain near 
Lubino until relieved by troops of the First Army. 

Barclay de Tolly, having rested his troops during the 
day, marched in the evening, taking the route by 
Sushchovo and Prudishchiye with a view to joining 
the Moscow road at Solovyova, where it crossed the 

Napoleon remained in inaction at Smolensk on the 18th 
August. He had no information as to the position of the 
enemy, and the fords of the Dnieper were unknown, in 
the absence of spies and of guides. With knowledge on 
these points he might yet be in a position to keep separate 
the armies of Barclay de Tolly and Bagration by an 


immediate passage of the river at the fords of Prudish- 

chevo. At Smolensk the crossing of the Dnieper was 

delayed by the necessity for the construction of bridges, 

the permanent wooden bridge and two pontoon bridges 

having been destroyed. 

Barclay de Tolly moved his troops in two columns, 

which were to reach Solovyova in two marches. The 

. , first, under Dokhturov, was to march by 
Retreat the Petersburg road to Stabna, and thence 

continued ^j^^^^g^ Zikolino and Sushchovo to Prudish- 
chiye, rest there and reach Pneva Sloboda next day. 
The second column, under Tuchkov 1st, accompanied 
by the Commander-in-Chief himself, would follow the 
Petersburg road only as far as Krakhotkina, and march 
by Polueva, Gorbunovo, Zhabino, and Kashayevo, and 
so by the Moscow road to Solovyova. A rearguard under 
General Korf was to follow this column. Plato v's 
Cossacks were to form a line of detachments from 
Smolensk to Poryechiye, and as the columns approached 
Solovyova, he was to extend his left to the Dnieper and 
form a general rearguard. A special advanced guard, 
under General Tuchkov 3rd, was to move ahead of 
Tuchkov Ist's colunm through Gorbunovo on to the 
Moscow road. 

This advanced guard, owing to the difficulty of the 
roads through forest and marsh, did not debouch on to 
the Moscow road until eight o'clock on the morning of 


the 19tli August. Prince Gorchakov, commanding the 
detachment left by Bagration, had marched on to Solov- 
yova without waiting to be relieved by troops of the First 
Army, leaving only three regiments of Cossacks to observe 
the Smolensk road. Tuchkov 3rd could not, therefore, 
march on, or he would leave open the point by which the 
column would debouch on to the Moscow road. He 
accordingly moved a short distance towards Smolensk, 
and at ten o'clock took up a position with his 3000 men 
behind the Kolodnya stream, with Karpov's Cossacks 
covering his left to the Dnieper. He had information 
that Junot was constructing bridges with a view to 
crossing the river at Prudishchevo, and that French 
troops were moving out from Smolensk to the Moscow 

In the meantime a portion of one of Barclay de Tolly's 
corps had lost its way in the forest, and emerged at 
Gedeonovo in the morning when Ney, who had crossed 
the Dnieper by bridges constructed during the night, was 
forming up his corps in front of the Petersburg suburb, 
only 1500 yards distant. 

Barclay de Tolly happened to appear at this point, and 
made arrangements for the troops to occupy the defensive 
position, to cover the retreat of the remaining corps which 
had lost their way to Gorbunovo. Thus, while the 
Russians had not yet effected their retreat, and had had 
to post detachments at two points to cover the movement, 


Ney was in a position to attack and Junot was in a situa- 
tion to advance and appear on tlie rear of the First Army, 
But Ney delayed his advance until after eight o'clock in 
the morning, giving the Russians (commanded by Prince 
Eugene of Wurtemberg) time to prepare the Gedeonovo 
position for defence. At length the French advanced, cut 
off a battalion, and forced back the Russians, who were 
only saved from destruction by timely reinforcements of 
cavalry, which covered their retreat to Gorbunovo. 

Napoleon, informed that Ney had met with the enemy, 
ordered Davout to follow, and directed Junot to cross 
the Dnieper at Prudishchevo. The Guard and Prince 
Eugene remained in Smolensk, and Poniatovski's corps 
on the left side of the Dnieper, above Smolensk. 
Napoleon himself proceeded to the front, ordered Ney 
to advance along the Moscow road, and, although the 
cannonade was becoming more sustained, returned to 
Smolensk at above five o'clock, after giving orders to 
Murat and Junot to co-operate in the advance on Ney's 
right. He considered that the action was only an 
ordinary rearguard one, and, unaware that Barclay's 
army was retreating by a circuitous route and not by the 
Moscow road, had been unable to grasp the importance 
of Tuchkov 3rd's position behind the Kolodnya. 

The action there began with Ney's attack soon after 
midday. But Tuchkov 3rd was reinforced by some 2000 
men from the corps of Tuchkov 1st, and it was not 


until three o'clock that lie was forced back behind the 
Stragan stream, where he had collected 8000 men by 
Action at ^^^^ o'clock, and the command devolved on 
Lubino General Ermolov. This position was of great 
importance, covering the retreat of Tuchkov Ist's columns 
when they debouched on to the Moscow road. 

The Eussians offered a stubborn resistance, but at 
nine o'clock in the evening they were forced to retire, 
with the loss of their brave leader, Tuchkov 3rd, who was 
wounded and captured when leading a final bayonet 
charge to cover the withdrawal of his wounded. Junot 
had crossed the Dnieper early in the action, but he 
remained immovable in a retired position, and failed 
to co-operate in the attack, notwithstanding Murat's 
personal and repeated requests. Had he marched to 
Lubino on the Moscow road in rear of Tuchkov 3rd's 
position he would have cut the line of retreat of the First 
Army and so attained the object for which he had been 
despatched across the Dnieper at Prudishchevo. This 
action was attended with considerable loss on either side, 
the Russian casualties numbering 5000. Since Napoleon 
crossed the Dnieper at Rasasna he had lost some 20,000 
men, and his army now numbered under 160,000, com- 
pared with the 363,000 with which he had passed the 
Niemen between Kovno and Grodno. 

On the 20th August the troops of Tuchkov Ist's column 
reached Solo vy ova, where they joined Dokhturov and 


crossed the Dnieper by three pontoon bridges during that 

day and the next. There were now only Korf 's rearguard 

and Platov's detachment on the right bank. These 

crossed under cover of guns posted on the left bank, 

which kept off the pursuing enemy. The First Army 

marched on to Usviatye on the 21st and 22nd August ; 

and the Second Army was disposed on its left flank. 

Napoleon's last great manoeuvre terminated at 

Smolensk. His first was the piercing of the Russian 

centre by the advance to Vilna ; his next, 

the attempted destruction first of Bagration, 

and then of Barclay de Tolly by the advance to 

Glubokoye, towards Polotzk. He had now tried to 

bring the Russians to battle at Smolensk, and had 

failed. The reasons of his failure before Smolensk 

are to be found in a variety of causes. First, perhaps, 

in the differences between the two Russian commanders, 

which impeded co-operation between them, and as a 

consequence rendered it impossible for them to deliver 

battle. Barclay attempted to assume the offensive as 

has been related, but was prevented largely by the 

action of Bagration. The latter wished to make a 

stand at Smolensk ; the former was for retreat. 

Events show the error of the commonly accepted idea 

that the Russian plan of campaign had been thought out 

with a view to drawing the invaders into the interior and 

so destroying them. The establishment of the camp at 


Drissa and the constant urging of tlie Tzar that the retreat 
should cease are alone sufficient to prove that such a 
plan had not entered the heads of responsible authorities. 

It has already been remarked that Napoleon's change 
of front, which took him across the Dnieper and turned 
the Russian left, was one of the finest movements that 
he had executed. The causes of failure have also been 
generally indicated. Tactical failure appears to have 
been due in the first instance to a want of vigour in press- 
ing home the attack on the city, and to inability to find 
the fords over the Dnieper at Prudishchevo in good time. 
Subsequently, Junot's inaction after crossing the river at 
that place admitted of the escape of Barclay when he 
might have been cut of! on the Moscow road. 

It appears to be worth considering whether Napoleon 
would have done better to turn the Russian right instead 
of their left in the advance on Smolensk. By marching 
by way of Poryechiye he would have avoided the double 
passage of the Dnieper at Rasasna and Smolensk, and 
on arrival before that place he would have been in 
possession of the higher part of the city on the right 
bank of the river. But such a movement in a direction 
where the enemy was awaiting him would have eliminated 
the element of secrecy essential to the success of his plan ; 
and it would have involved the separation of his forces 
as he would have been manoeuvring away from instead 
of towards Davout, who was approaching from Mohilev. 


Napoleon had now to decide whether to advance 

farther or remain in Smolensk until the next year. He 

_. . . . had already considered the matter at Vilna, 
The decision '^ ^ ' 

to advance but had arrived at no definite conclusion, 
although he had told Jomini that his intention 
was to advance as far as Smolensk, form winter quarters 
there for the army, and return to Vilna to establish 
his own headquarters. But this was on the under- 
standing that he would have defeated the Russians in 
a good battle. For political purposes he had estab- 
lished his Foreign Minister, Maret, at Vilna. 

Several new factors had appeared subsequent to the 
opening of the campaign, which had so far not come up 
to his expectations. The conclusion of peace between 
Russia and Turkey, setting free the army of Moldavia, 
and the treaty with Sweden, as has already been 
mentioned, imperilled the safety of the wings of his army. 
He had expected the Russian forces on either flank to 
conform to the movements of their main army, but they 
remained facing Schwarzenberg on one flank and St Cyr 
on the other. This unexpected obstinacy on the part 
of Tormassov had hindered the general rising of the Poles 
that had been anticipated in Volhynia, while Wittgenstein 
held his own on the other flank. 

Difficulties of supply and transport, which, in view of 
the vast preparations that had been made, were unex- 
pected, had been met with from the very beginning of 


the campaign ; and if the troops had suffered so much in 
friendly Lithuania what was to be expected on the hostile 
soil of ancient Russia ? This had resulted in great 
losses to the army, both from sickness and from straggling, 
which must be expected to increase. 

" Strategical consumption," to use the expressive term 
of Clause witz, had reduced the strength of the army, so 
that the vast preponderance with which Napoleon had 
opened the campaign no longer continued, and the 
wasting disease would become more evident as the army 
advanced into the interior. The Emperor had been 
disappointed in the expected battle, and the time 
and opportunity for strategical manoeuvring had passed 

Finally, the events of Smolensk, which left to the 
conqueror nothing but the smoking ruins of a deserted 
city, proved that Napoleon was now engaged in a national 
war against a people whose religious and patriotic senti- 
ments were aroused to the point of fanaticism. 

The time had arrived when these matters had to be 
considered in forming a decision whether to advance on 
Moscow in pursuit of the retreating enemy, or to be 
satisfied with the position on the Dnieper and establish 
himself at Smolensk for the coming winter. The advance 
into the interior would draw out his communications in 
an attenuated line, while the Russians could base them- 
selves on the whole extent of their vast Empire. It 


could surely be perceived that, failing the conclusion of 
peace at Moscow, the enterprise must fail. 

On the other hand, to halt in cantonments on the 
Dnieper appeared impossible while the enemy had not 
been defeated in a decisive battle. Supplies could not 
be ensured for a large army which it would be necessary 
to keep concentrated in the face of the undefeated enemy. 
The harvest of 1811 was a bad one ; that of 1812 had been 
spoilt by the ravages of war and the withdrawal of the 
population. The base might have been changed by a 
retirement by way of Lutzk and Brest, which would have 
swept Tormassov aside and ensured supplies that were 
unattainable in ravaged Lithuania. But political con- 
siderations rendered a retrograde movement unthinkable. 
Even a halt on the Dnieper in existing circumstances 
would perhaps appear tantamount to failure in the eyes 
of Europe, which, subjugated but not pacified, was 
hostile at heart, and stood at gaze on the long line of 
communications with France. 

It appeared then that the only course was to continue 
the advance in the hope of fighting a decisive battle and 
dictating terms of peace in the ancient capital of the 
Tzars. And who, without the wisdom that comes after 
the event, can say that Napoleon's decision to take this 
course was not a wise one ? It was at any rate the only 
one that conformed with the character of the great 
Emperor whose ambition could brook no restraint. 



Russian Desire for Battle — French Pursuit — Napoleon leaves 
Smolensk — Measures in Rear — Russian Retreat continued 
— Kutuzov assumes Command — Action at Shivardino — 
Position of Borodino — Occupation of the Position — The 
Opposing Forces — French Dispositions — Napoleon's Orders 

The Russians were now more anxious than ever to fight 

a decisive battle, and on the retreat from Smolensk their 

„ . obiect was to find a position favourable for 

Russian •• , , ^ _ 

Desire for a defensive action. For this purpose staff 
officers were despatched on the road to 
Moscow, and two positions were found, one at Usvyatiye, 
behind the Uzha stream, and another at Tzarevo 
Zaimishchiye, about half-way to the Russian capital. 
The position at the former place being considered 
most favourable was taken up for defence. But 
when the French advance developed, weaknesses were 
discovered on both flanks, and the Russians withdrew 
to Dorogobuzh on the night of the 23rd-24th August. 

Meanwhile Murat, followed byDavout and Ney, reached 
Pneva Sloboda on the 22nd, and crossed the Dnieper, 
the cavalry fording the river, the infantry by two 



pontoon bridges ; Junot followed. The heat was op- 
pressive ; troops, carts and flocks which followed the 
French army moved in thick clouds of dust. Eugene's 
Pursuit corps marched by Pomogailovo and thence by 
the Dukhovshchina-Dorogobuzh road, and on the 25th 
reached Zaseliye, where a junction was effected with 
Grouchy who had marched by Dukhovshchina. Ponia- 
tovski marched by Byelkino, following the course of the 
Dnieper at a distance of some versts from the main road. 
Latour-Maubourg marched on Mstislavl and thence to 
Yelnya where he was to arrive on the 28th. 

Napoleon, hearing that the Russians had taken up 
a position before Dorogobuzh, and hoping for a general 

engagement, sent his Guard forward on the 
Napoleon o o ' 

leaves 24th August, and left Smolensk that night. 

He had now about 155,000 men, exclusive of 
a garrison of 4500 left in Smolensk, where there were 
also some 6000 wounded. Such supplies as were found 
were despatched after the troops. In the course of 
a few weeks considerable magazines of flour and other 
provisions were established. 

Meanwhile Napoleon had not neglected the flanks and 
rear of his army, to which he paid special attention now 
Measures in ^^^^ ^^ -^^^ advanced so far into hostile 
Rear territory and, as he hoped, was about to 

complete the subjugation of the enemy by a decisive 
victory and the occupation of the ancient capital. 


Marshal Victor, who was in Prussia with the 9th 
Corps, was directed to march by Kovno and Vilna to 
Smolensk. The detachments on the line of communica- 
tions at those places and at Minsk, Mohilev and Vitebsk 
were placed under him. The Emperor wrote to 
Schwarzenberg : " You will try to reach Kiev while we 
go to Moscow." St Cyr, who had succeeded Oudinot, 
was directed to hold back Wittgenstein, and Macdonald 
to lay siege to Kiga. The siege park was ordered up from. 
Tilsit to the Dwina. After obtaining possession of Kiga 
Macdonald's corps was "to take part in the general 
operations, and then Macdonald and St Cyr can threaten 
St Petersburg while we are in Moscow. Should St Cyr 
be defeated, Victor will move to the assistance of the 
troops operating on the Dwina. But the chief object of 
his army is to form a reserve for the Moscow army. In 
case of interruption of the communications between 
Smolensk and my headquarters, they must at once be 
reopened ; it may be necessary for the Duke of Belluno 
(Victor) to march towards us. Perhaps I shall not find 
peace where I am going to seek it. But in that case, 
having behind me a strong reserve, I shall be in no danger 
and I need not accelerate my retreat." Augereau's 
corps was to occupy the country between the Vistula and 
the Niemen. Some of the Cohorts of the National Guard 
were moved to the Rhine and the Elbe. The conscription 
for 1813 was ordered. Thus the great Emperor made 


provision for everything, as Napier says, " with such a 
military providence, with such a vigilance, so disposing 
his reserves, so guarding his flanks, so guiding his masses, 
that while constantly victorious in front no post was lost 
in his rear, no convoy failed, no courier was stopped, 
not even a letter was missing : the communication 
with his capital was as regular and certain as if that 
immense march had been but a summer excursion of 
pleasure ! " 

But again Napoleon was disappointed in his expecta- 
tion that the Russians would stand for battle. They 

„ . continued their retreat, the First Army to 

Russian , _ '' 

Retreat Viazma and the Second Army to Bikova, 
where they arrived on the 27th August. The 
same day their rearguard was attacked by Murat at Ribki 
on the River Osma, where it held out for seven hours until 
evening, when it retreated. On the 28th the Russians 
retreated to Fyoderovskoye and next day reached 
Tzarevo-Zaimishchiye, where they took up a position 
and where Barclay de Tolly intended to fight a battle. 
Their rearguard was engaged throughout the retreat, 
during which the Cossacks and horse-batteries were 
especially efiective in delaying the enemy. The French 
occupied Viazma the same day, finding much of it burnt 
by the inhabitants, who had deserted the town and 
followed the troops. 
Barclay de Tolly was now succeeded in command by 


Kutuzov, an event wliicli was not witlioiit effect on tlie 

nation and the army. Although. Barclay was the more 

„ , able commander of the two, the continual 


assumes retreats and the abandonment of Smolensk, 
the holy city on the confines of Old Eussia 
had lost him the confidence of the troops and of the 
people. Kutuzov, a Russian of the Russians, a lieutenant 
of Suvarov, had indeed been defeated at Austerlitz. But 
he was ready to give battle to the invaders, and he 
arrived at the psychological moment. Conditions were 
more favourable to him than they had been at any period 
of the campaign. The long marches, the bloody combats, 
the difficulty of obtaining provisions and forage, the 
extension of the line of communications had sapped the 
enemy's strength. The news of the battle of Salamanca 
had perhaps affected their moral. The conclusion of a 
treaty with Sweden had strengthened the Russian posi- 
tion; peace with Turkey had set free the Danubian army 
under Chichagov to co-operate against the French line 
of communications. As they retreated, the Russians 
gained in strength, and exhausted the resources of the 
country on the track that must be followed by the 
invaders. These causes tended to the equalisation of 
the forces in point of numbers. 

Kutuzov, accompanied by Bennigsen, his Chief-of-the- 
Staff, reached the army at Tzarevo-Zaimishchiye on the 
29th August. The new Commander-in-Chief decided to 


continue the retreat, in order to give time for filling up 
the ranks of the army now reduced to 95,000 men, but 
shortly reinforced by over 15,000 under Miloradovich, 
and by a considerable militia in the shape of untrained 
peasants who joined the army with cries of, "It is the 
will of God ! " 

But although Kutuzov retreated, he had determined 
to give battle in accordance with the demand of the 
nation and the army. His arrival raised the 7noral of 
the troops in the highest degree, and they prepared for 
the coming struggle with full confidence in themselves, 
in their leader, and in the justice of their cause. 

One of the new Commander-in-Chief's first acts was to 
inform Tormassov and Admiral Chichagov of his intention 
to fight a battle, and to tell them that, in view of the 
enemy having penetrated to the heart of Eussia, their 
role no longer lay in the defence of remote Polish pro- 
vinces, but in the distraction of the hostile forces massed 
against the main Russian army. He accordingly directed 
Tormassov to act against the right wing of Napoleon's 
Grand Army, while Chichagov, with the troops coming 
from Moldavia, would carry out the duties hitherto 
performed by Tormassov. 

On the 31st August the Russian army left the position 
at Tzarevo-Zaimishchiye, passed through Gzhatsk and 
reached Ivashkovo, where Miloradovich joined with his 
15,000 men. Their rearguard under Konovnitzin made 



a stand at Gzhatsk, but was driven out by Murat and 

Napoleon reached Gzhatsk on the 1st September, and 
there heard of the arrival of the new Russian Commander- 
in-Chief, and of his intention to give battle. He accord- 
ingly stopped the advance in order to rest and organise 
his troops for the approaching conflict. Murat halted 
a short distance beyond the town. Ney and Davout 
were disposed round Gzhatsk, where the Guard was 
quartered. Eugene was at Pavlovo on the left and 
Poniatovski at Budayevo on the right front. Junot 
was coming on in rear. On the 4th September Murat 
and Davout were ordered forward to Gridnevo, the army 
conforming to their movements. There the Russian 
rearguard was met with, but not forced to retire until 
nightfall, when they fell back to Kolotzkoi Monastir. 
This position was attacked next day, and the Russians 
forced to retire by the advance of Eugene's corps on their 
right flank. They retreated to their main army, which 
had taken up a position about Borodino. 

The advanced guard under Murat, followed by the 
Grand Army, crossed the Kalocha at Fomkino and 
Value va, and turned to the right to Shivardino, where a 
Russian detachment under Prince Gorchakov stood on 
the heights in front of their main position, protected by 
a strong redoubt. 

Napoleon sent three of Davout' s divisions and Murat's 


cavalry reserve against this post, and directed Ponia- 
tovski to turn it by advancing along tlie old Smolensk 
Action at road. A fierce and bloody figlit ensued, wbicli 
Shivardino continued until ten o'clock at night, when 
Shivardino finally remained in the hands of the French. 
This battle cost the Eussians some 6000 and the French 
4000 men. The Emperor's tent was pitched in the 
midst of his Guard at Value va, on the left of the road to 
Moscow. In the afternoon he reconnoitred the enemy's 
position, but although he was active in a general way, 
Napoleon no longer displayed the activity of Austerlitz 
and Jena ; nor did he appear to possess that confidence 
in his fortune which had so often led him to victory. 

The position of Borodino extended from the village of 
Utitza on the old Smolensk road on the left to the Moscow 
Position of (properly Moskva) River on the right. The 
Borodino rigjit wing was covered by the River Kalocha, 
which in its upper portion flows through a marshy 
valley, parallel to the new Smolensk road which it 
crosses at the village of Borodino. Below that point, 
until its junction with the Moskva, the Kalocha runs 
through a deep ravine with precipitous sides, the right 
bank commanding the left, and in many places fifteen feet 
high. This right wing was the strongest portion of the 
position. Near Borodino three streams fall into the 
Kalocha : on the right, opposite the village, the Stonetz, 
between which and the Kalocha extends a narrow spur 


witli a lofty hillock at tlie village of Gorki ; above Boro- 
dino the Voina, flowing sluggishly through a marshy 
valley, joins the Kalocha on the left bank ; Borodino 
stands on the height which lies between the streams. 
Higher still — the Semyonovka flows out of the forest on 
the old Smolensk road to join the Kalocha on its right 
bank ; its banks are almost level in the upper part, but 
steep in the lower reaches. Between the Semyonovka, 
the Kalocha, and the Stonetz the high ground commands 
the surrounding country. On the summit is situated the 
spot known as Eaevski's battery. From the village of 
Semyonovskaya to its mouth the right bank of the 
Semyonovka commands the left ; above Semyonovskaya 
the left bank is the higher. 

Owing to the heat of the summer of 1812 these streams 
were all practically dry, and there was little water in the 
Kalocha. To the left of Semyonovskaya as far as the 
fields of the village of Utitza extended a bush-grown plain. 
The fields were surrounded on three sides by deep forests, 
traversed by the old Smolensk road. There is a consider- 
able eminence close to the road in the forest behind 

From the Kamenka stream, a dry tributary of the 
Semyonovka marking the prolongation of the Russian 
front, the ground rises gradually in the direction of 
Fomkino, and of the line of the French advance. There 
are three knolls near Shivardino. 


The Kalocha covered the right wing of the position 
only as far as Gorki ; from that point the Russian line 
passed through Semyonovskaya and Utitza. 

It will be understood, then, that the right flank and 
right wing of the Russian position was rendered strong 
by natural features. The centre and especially the left 
were weak, that flank resting on no natural obstacle and 
being liable to envelopment by a turning movement 
along the old Smolensk road. 

The position was strengthened by earthworks. Two 
batteries, of three and nine guns respectively, were con- 
structed — the one on the knoll just in front of Gorki, the 
other 200 yards farther down the road towards Borodino. 
The wooden bridge over the Kalocha was left standing 
and Borodino was prepared for defence. In the centre 
a large earthwork was made, with embrasures for ten 
guns ; but the works generally were not as complete as 
they might have been, through a deficiency of entrench- 
ing tools, while the ground was difficult, being covered 
with stones. Farther to the left, in front of Semyonov- 
skaya were three batteries, known as the Bagration 

Besides the works that have been enumerated, the 
wood on the left flank of the position was prepared for 
defence. The Moscow and Smolensk militia, numbering 
10,000 men, being badly armed and trained, was employed 
in carrying the wounded and on baggage-guard. 


The riglit and centre of the position were occupied by 

the First Army under Barclay de Tolly ; the left, by the 

- ,. Second Army under Prince Bagration. The 
Occupation *' ^ 

of the 2nd and dth Infantry Corps under Milora- 

dovich formed the right wing, covered by 
the Kalocha, extending from a point 800 yards from 
the Moskva Eiver to the Stonetz stream behind Gorki. 
The 2nd Cavalry Corps stood in rear of the left of 
this wing ; the 1st Cavalry Corps was considerably 
thrown back on the right rear, towards Uspenskoye, 
and Platov's Cossacks were formed upon its left. The 
6th Infantry Corps, supported by the 3rd Cavalry Corps, 
under Dokhturov, occupied the high ground across 
the Stonetz, south of Gorki, extending to Raevski's 

Of the Second Army the 7th Infantry Corps, with the 
4:th Cavalry Corps in rear, occupied the space between 
Raevski's battery and Semyonovskaya ; and Count 
Vorontzov's division — the Bagration redoubts. The 
rifle regiments were distributed along the front with the 
exception of four regiments which occupied the bushes on 
the Kamenka stream and to the left in the direction of the 
old Smolensk road, and two which stood in a grove behind 
the right wing between the 2nd Infantry and 1st Cavalry 
Corps. Five Cossack regiments observed the lower 
Kalocha to its junction with the Moskva, and six, the 
left about Utitza, where Tuchkov's infantry corps was 


posted. The Bagration redoubts were occupied by guns 
and infantry ; the others were defended only by guns. 
The infantry were not all covered by breastworks as had 
been intended. 

The general reserve, consisting of the 3rd and 5th 
Infantry Corps and the 1st Cuirassier Division, was 
posted behind the village of Kniazkovo ; the main 
artillery reserve of twenty-six companies and batteries,^ 
behind Psarevo. The Second Army had its own reserve, 
consisting of Prince Charles of Mecklenburg's grenadier 
division, behind Semyonovskaya, subsequently rein- 
forced by the Shivardino garrison and five companies 
of horse artillery sent from the general reserve. The 
headquarters were at Tatarinovo. 

In all the Russians had 120,800 men, consisting of 
72,000 infantry, 17,500 cavalry, 14,300 artillery and 
The Oppos- pioneers, 7000 Cossacks and 10,000 militia, 
ing Forces ^j^d 640 guns. Napoleon's army numbered 
130,000 men, of which 86,000 were infantry, 28,000 
cavalry, 16,000 artillery and pioneers, and 587 guns, 
The opposing forces cannot be compared according 
to their numerical strength alone. The French army 
consisted of men inured to war ; the weakly had been 
eliminated by the vicissitudes of the campaign which 
had resulted in the survival of the fittest. But the army 

^ Those of the Guards were called batteries ; they had eight 


suffered from want of provisions. The cavalry horses 
were mostly worn out and in bad condition, while the 
French guns were greatly inferior in calibre to those of 
the Russians. The Russian army comprised 15,000 ill- 
trained recruits, and 10,000 militia, many of whom were 
armed only with pikes. 

It will be seen that as the right flank of the position 
was well protected by natural features, it might have 
been more lightly occupied, and it would perhaps have 
been sufficient to have observed that flank or held it 
lightly, and so set free a larger number for the general 
reserve, and for the exposed flank on the left, which was 
insufficiently held. 

During the 6th Napoleon reconnoitred the Russian 
position. This was quite clear until their left was 
French reached, where its limit could not be perceived 
Dispositions g^g j^ ^g^g hidden by the forests about Utitza. 
In the evening he issued his orders for the battle, 
after posting Poniatovski in the forest on the right flank 
of the army near the Yelnya road. It is said that 
Davout urged a wide turning movement round the 
Russian left, to avoid a direct attack on the redoubts on 
that flank ; but the Emperor considered this too danger- 
ous, as it would divide his forces in the presence of the 

Davout was in position to the right front of Shivardino 
with the divisions of Friant, Dessaix and Compans ; 


the cavalry of Nansouty, Montbrun and Latour-Maubourg 
were in Ms rear. Ney stood between Shivardino and 
Alexinki ; Junot behind him, and the Young and Old 
Guards in rear of him again ; Morand was on Ney's left 
front, his left on the Kalocha, behind which stood 
Grouchy's cavalry ; Morand and Grouchy were under 
Prince Eugene, whose divisions under Gerard, Broussier 
and Delzons stood in that order from right to left behind 
the Kalocha and the Voina stream, with the Italian 
Guard in the rear. The extreme left, beyond the Voina 
was watched by Ornano's cavalry, between Bezzubovo 
and Loginovo. 

The orders issued directed two new batteries of twenty- 
four guns, constructed during the night on the plain 
Napoleon's occupied by Davout, to open fire on the two 
Orders opposing hostile batteries. At the same time 

the chief of artillery of the 1st Corps with thirty guns of 
Compans and all the howitzers of Dessaix's and Friand's 
divisions, was to move forward and shell the enemy's 
right battery at Semyonovskaya, against which the fire 
of sixty-two guns would be concentrated. Forty guns 
of the 3rd Corps were to open on the left fortification, and 
the howitzers of the Guard were to be in readiness to act 
according to circumstances. 

During this artillery fije Poniatovski was to advance 
by the old Smolensk road, attack Utitza, and turn the 
enemy's position. 


CompaiiB wan to movo tlii'oiigli tlio foroBt and attack 
the hit redoubt. 

HidjHoqiient ordoi'M wotdd bo iMSiicd according to tlic 
cnci uy'B inovcniciitH. 

Tlio. caiiuonado on the Icit Hank would begin a.s Hoon as 
that on tlie right wa,H lieard. The HkirminherB of Moiaiid's 
diviBion, and of Prince Eugene's divisions were to open 
a heavy fire when they saw the beginning of the I'ight 
attack. The l*rince was to occupy Borodino, cross the 
Kalocha by three bridges which he had been ordered to 
construct during the night, and conform to the movement 
of Morand's and Gerard's divisions, which were to attack 
the entrenclniuMil, of Gorki, and were placed under his 

'[•hcae orders were to be carried out with order and 
method, kee])iiig troops in reserve as far as poasible. 

In instructions issued fo Ditvout by the Chief-of-the- 
StafE we read : 

'' The Emperor wishes that to-morrow the 7th at five 
o'clock in the morning Compans' division be drawn up 
by brigades in front of the Shivardino redoubt, having 
thirty guns in front of it. Dcssaix's division will be 
disposed in the same manner between the redoubt and 
the forest with its fourteen guns on its left. Eriand's 
division will be drawu up iu lino witii the redoubt. 

*' Noy is directed to take the 8th Corps under his 
oommaud. lie will place three divisions of the 3rd Corps 


behind the Shivardino redoubt, drawn up in brigades with 
their guns on their left. The Imperial Guard will be 
drawn up on the left rear of the redoubt — the Young 
Guard in front of the Old Guard and artillery of the 
Guard ; the artillery of the Guard disposed on the left 

" Murat's Cavalry, consisting of the 1st, 2nd, and 4th 
Reserve Cavalry Corps will be drawn up in order of battle 
by squadrons (en bataille par escadrons) to the right of 
the redoubt. 

" All the troops will occupy their appointed stations 
by five o'clock." 

To his troops Napoleon issued the following proclama- 
tion : — 

" Soldiers ! This is the battle which you have so much 
wished for. Victory depends on you. It is indispensable 
for us ; it will ensure us all that is needful, comfortable 
quarters and a speedy return to the Fatherland. Do as 
you have done at Austerlitz, Friedland, Vitebsk, and 
Smolensk. Let remotest posterity recall with pride your 
deeds of valour on this day. Let it be said of each of 
you — He was at the great battle under the walls of 
Moscow ! " 



Napoleon at Shivardino — Attack on the Russian Left — Eugene 
takes Borodino — Renewed Attack on Russian Left — Ney 
assaults the Left — Russians retake the Redoubts— 
Poniatovski's Advance — The Battle at Semyonovskaya — 
French Capture the Left Redoubts — Murat's Cavalry Charge 
— Capture of Semyonovskaya — Poniatovski at Utitza — 
The Battle in the Centre — Reinforcement of the Russian 
Left — Uvarov's Cavalry Charge — Renewed Attack on the 
Centre — Capture of Raevski's Battery — The Battle ends — 
Russian Position — Comments 

Napoleon mounted his horse at half -past five in the 
morning of the 7th September, and rode to the Shivardino 
Napoleon at redoubt. He had slept little during the night, 
Shivardino owing to the excitement of the impending 
battle, while his health was not good and he was suffering 
from a severe cold which almost deprived him of his 
voice. He remained nearly all day on the high ground 
in front of the redoubt, about a mile from the Russian 
first line ; the Guard were drawn up round him. Here 
he paced up and down, stopping at times to issue orders. 
Kutuzov had at the same time taken up his position 
at Gorki, where he remained until the end of the battle, 
at a considerable distance from the decisive flank. 



The French batteries opened fire with 102 guns at 

six o'clock, but finding the range too great, they were 

. , moved forward, and reopened at about 1600 

the Russian paces. This was followed by the opening of 

artillery fire in the centre and by Prince 

Eugene's guns against Borodino. The Russians replied 
from their batteries and redoubts. Under cover of 
the artillery fixe Davout's two divisions moved to the 
attack — Compans on the right and Dessaix on the 
left. On emerging from the forest, the former came 
under fire from the redoubts and were driven back 
into cover, but at length they rushed to assault the left 
earthwork. At this moment Compans fell severely 
wounded, and his troops wavered, but Davout, seeing 
their hesitation, rode forward, led the attack and the 
redoubt was taken. Bagration had sent up reinforce- 
ments from the second line ; these drove the French 
out again, and their discomfiture was completed by a 
charge of two regiments of Russian hussars and dragoons, 
who captured twelve guns, but were forced to abandon 
them and retire by two brigades of French light cavalry. 
During this struggle Dessaix was severely wounded, and 
Marshal Davout had his horse killed and received a 
severe contusion, but remained at his post. 

While this fight was in progress, Prince Eugene had 
attacked and occupied Borodino with Delzons' division, 
which drove out the Russians, who were pursued across 


the bridge over the Kalocha by a French regiment, 

which followed them to the vicinity of Gorki. There 

^ the French were in turn attacked by superior 

Eugene . "^ ^ 

takes forces in front and flank, and forced back to 

Borodino with heavy loss. The Kussians then 
destroyed the bridge over the Kalocha, while Prince 
Eugene contented himself at that point with holding 
Borodino. Delzons' division and the Bavarian cavalry 
stood behind the village ; to the left was a strong battery 
firing on the Gorki heights and Raevski's battery ; and 
farther to the left, in front of the village of Bezzubovo, 
Ornano's light cavalry stood upon the plain. Eugene's 
remaining troops (Gerard's and Broussier's divisions, the 
Italian Guard and Grouchy's cavalry) moved to the right 
towards the bridges which had been constructed across 
the Kalocha above Borodino, and crossed under cover of 
Morand's riflemen, who were engaged with the Russian 
skirmishers at the foot of Raevski's hill. 

Napoleon, hearing of the loss of general officers in the 
right attack, had sent Rapp to succeed Compans ; but 
Rapp was soon wounded. The Emperor now, 
Attack on at seven o'clock, directed Ney to co-operate 
in Davout's attack, while Junot's corps was 
moved up to the left of Shivardino, and Murat's cavalry 
advanced to support. 

Bagration, observing Ney's advance, took measures 
to oppose the enemy with reinforcements of both infantry 


and artillery, including all his reserve batteries, as well 
as one of Tuchkov's divisions, and sent to Barclay de 
Tolly for reinforcements. The latter despatched his 
2nd Infantry Corps, in addition to some regiments of 
Guards from his reserve, grenadier battalions, and 
artillery, a measure which occupied a couple of hours, 
while Davout and Ney were already preparing to renew 
the assault. 

It was eight o'clock. The fire at the redoubts had not 
ceased for a moment when Ney attacked Bagration's 
Ney assaults ^^o^PS- He was met by a murderous fire of 
the Left ^^^^^ ^^^ musketry, but continued to advance. 
Ney himself at the head of a portion of his corps 
captured the left redoubt ; others of Ledru's division 
seized the right one. Only then did the attackers 
perceive the third work, which was behind the others, 
and drove the Russian grenadiers out of it. A hand- 
to-hand fight ensued in which Count Vorontzov was 
severely wounded by a bayonet thrust, and the combat 
ceased only with the annihilation of his division. 

At nine o'clock Bagration sent forward his reinforce- 
ments, referred to above, as well as a large force of cavalry 

„ . and some horse artillery ; while at the same 

Russians _ _ "^ 

retake the time some light cavalry were despatched to 

assist Davout and Ney. No sooner did the 

Russian infantry move forward to retake the lost redoubts, 

than Murat sent his Wurtemberg horse against them, but 


these were overthrown by a charge of Russian cuirassiers, 
which pursued them, entered the entrenchments, and 
drove out the French infantry. Murat himself only 
escaped being taken prisoner by dismounting and taking 
refuge in the left redoubt, occupied by a Wurtemberg 
battalion. The Russian cuirassiers were at length 
driven back by a regiment of Polish lancers. 

About ten o'clock, after a renewed and desperate 
struggle, in which Prince Gorchakov and Neverovski 
were wounded, Ney's troops again obtained possession of 
the redoubts. But at this moment the reinforcements 
sent by Barclay de Tolly to reinforce the left wing were 
approaching the Semyonovskaya heights. They charged 
with the bayonet, and once more drove the French out 
of the field works. 

Meanwhile Poniatovski had advanced along the old 

_ . Smolensk road, and had gained possession 


tovski's of Utitza; his corps numbered only 10,000 

,Arfv3.ricG • 

men, and he could advance no farther agamst 

the Russian flank in the face of superior forces. 

Already at nine o'clock Napoleon, being informed that 

Ney's troops had captured the Semyonovskaya works, 

_, „ , and thinking that he did not require the co- 
The Battle ^ • t n 

at Semyo- operation of the Westphalian corps, ordered 

aya j^^^^^ ^^ move into the interval between 
Davout and Poniatovski, to combine the two attacks. 
News then came of Ney's repulse, but it was some 


time before Napoleon decided what to do, and at 
length he sent Friand's division to reinforce him ; it 
was eleven o'clock before Friand moved forward. 

The French had now some 26,000 men attacking the 
Semyonovskaya entrenchments, where 18,000 Kussians 
opposed them. There were numerous batteries on either 
side, whose fire was incessant. It was during this period 
that Bagration fell mortally wounded. Dokhturov 
succeeded to the command of the Second Army, while 
Konovnitzin commanded the troops at the redoubts. 
At about eleven o'clock the French again assaulted the 
earthworks, once more obtained possession of them, and 
the guns. But they did not hold them long, for they were 
soon driven out and forced back into the forest by a 
desperate bayonet charge of Borozdin's grenadiers. 

At eleven-thirty a renewed attack drove the Eussians 

out again, and the French now finally gained 

capture the possession of the Semyonovskaya redoubts, 

\i^^} ^, the Russians retiring behind the watercourse, 
Redoubts . . ° . , 

where Konovnitzin reorganised the remainder 

of the troops under cover of strong batteries. 

Ney now attacked the village, but was repulsed ; 

whereupon Murat, having conferred with him, decided 

... to intervene in the battle with a great mass of 

Murat's _ ._ ^ . ^ 

Cavalry cavalry. These were divided into two parts, 

*^^^ to attack the Russians on either side of 

Semyonovskaya. To cover this attack, Ney and Davout 


establislied batteries along the margin of tlie watercourse. 
Nansouty, crossing with. St Germain's cuirassiers and 
Bruyere's light cavalry division, above Semyonovskaya 
village, was met by a heavy fire from the Kussian batteries. 
At the same time two regiments of Russian guards on the 
left wing formed six squares, and repelled the attack 
with their fire ; two more charges met with the same 
result, and then one of the guards regiments charged in 
their turn with the bayonet, while the Russian guns 
played upon the cuirassiers until their fire was m^asked ; 
and Nansouty's cavalry was driven back with heavy 

Latour-Maubourg had crossed the watercourse below 
the village with his two cavalry divisions, but the 
difficulty of the passage delayed him and he came into 
action later than Nansouty. Charging on the right 
and rear of the Russian infantry, this cavalry met with 
more success, but they also were forced to retire. 

During this cavalry action Friand renewed the attack 

on the ruins of Semyonovskaya, of which he obtained 

possession, and his troops maintained them- 

Semyo- selves on the right bank of the watercourse, 

novos aya ^i^jjg-j^g j^^ie Russians to retire a cannon-shot 

from the ravine. 

On occupying Semyonovskaya, Ney established strong 
batteries which opened fire from the front against the 
Russian left wing and on the flank of their troops in the 


centre of their position. The Russian left wing was 
completely disorganised. Barclay de Tolly wrote : 
" The Second Army, in the absence of Prince Bagration 
and many generals wounded, was driven back in the 
greatest confusion ; all the fortifications and portions of 
the batteries were in the hands of the enemy. The 26th 
Division alone still maintained its position about the 
heights in front of the centre." 

Fortunately for the Russians, the thick dust which 
had risen from the cavalry attacks and the smoke of the 
guns to the number of about 700 concentrated around 
Semyonovskaya, prevented the enemy from observing 
the broken and weakened state of the Russian left. 

The French generals did not consider that they had 
sufficient strength to confirm the successes they had 
gained, in view of their great losses. They stood at 
Semyonovskaya, and sent to Napoleon for reinforcements. 
But the Emperor feared to use up his only reserve — the 
19,000 men of the Old and Young Guard — and after 
some hesitation he sent a division of the Young Guard, 
with orders not to advance beyond the Kamenka. 

In the meantime in the centre and on the Old Smolensk 
road the battle was being fought with varying fortune. 
Poniatovski Roniatovski had started at five o'clock, but 
at Utitza j^jg movements were so slow that his leading 
division did not reach the road until eight. His 
troops occupied the village of Utitza, but stopped 


beyond tlie village on being confronted by tbe First 
Eussian Grenadier Division, supported by artillery. 
Tbe Russians took up a strong position about a knoll 
on wkicli some guns were posted, and Poniatovski, not 
knowing that Konovnitzin bad been driven from tlie 
Semyonovskaya beigbts, did not advance fartber, fearing 
to be cut off from tbe French army. It was not until 
half -past ten, wben Junot bad appeared and engaged tbe 
Russians on bis left, tbat Poniatovski drove Tucbkov 
back and took possession of tbe knoll. 

In tbe meantime Prince Eugene bad attacked tbe 
battery in tbe Russian centre, wbicb was defended by 
The Battle I^aevski, tbe wbole of wliose second line 
in the Centre ];^a(j been sent to reinforce tbe defenders 
of tbe Semyonovskaya beigbts by order of Bagration. 
Raevski's troops, some dozen battalions in all, were 
disposed along tbe ravine in rear of tbe battery, so 
tbat from tbe rigbt a flanking fire could be brought to 
bear on tbe attack. From the opening of the battle a 
sharp action bad proceeded between the Russian skir- 
mishers across tbe Semyonovka stream ahead of tbe 
battery, and Morand's troops. Broussier's division, 
crossing the Kalocha, also took part in the action ; and 
the French batteries soon forced the Russian skirmishers 
to retire from the stream to the hill. Broussier and 
Morand followed up tbe attack, Gerard's di\dsion re- 
maining in reserve ; while Montbrun was ordered to cross 


and support Morand's attack. At about ten o'clock 
Broussier made an unsuccessful attempt to assault the 
battery, but was driven back. 

The French now prepared a fresh attack by opening a 
heavy artillery fire, and at eleven o'clock the assault was 
renewed by Morand's troops, whose leading brigade 
under Bonamy drove the Kussians out and captured their 
guns and earthwork, thus gaining a most important point 
in the centre of the enemy's position. 

At this moment the Russian General Yermolov, Chief- 
of-the-StafE of the First Army, was passing along the rear 
of the captured battery with two batteries of horse 
artillery which he was leading to reinforce the left of the 
Semyonovskaya position. He saw what had happened, 
and at once turned his guns on the captured battery, 
and taking the first fresh battalion he could find, led it 
against the French, taking with him also the Russian 
troops that were streaming back from the captured 
position. Morand had not had time to confirm the 
success gained by his leading brigade when this attack 
took place. At the same time General Kreytz with 
three regiments of dragoons, supported by artillery fire, 
charged the remainder of Morand's troops. The French 
were driven out of the battery, forced back, and pursued 
for some distance ; Montbrun was killed, and the 
divisional generals, Morand, Pajol and Def ranee, were 
wounded, and Bonamy wounded and taken prisoner, the 


Frencli losing altogether in this attack on the Raevski 

battery some 3000 men. 

It was now midday. On the left of the position the 

Russians had formed a new front. At nine o'clock 

„ . . General Bagejevoot had received orders to 

Reinforce- ®® 

ment of the proceed to that flank, and had started with 
Russian Left, . . t • • ■, • i i • .^ 

his two divisions, leaving only his rifle 

regiments on the right flank in the grove and the bed 
of the Kalocha. On the way the corps was divided, 
one division being taken by Baggevoot to the left 
while the other under Prince Eugene of Wurtemberg 
was first directed against the captured Raevski battery, 
but on the battery being taken as above described, the 
Prince moved on to form a new line between that and 
Semyonovskaya, where he was joined by Barclay de 
Tolly. Here they formed squares to repulse the French 
cavalry, whose attacks have already been described, 
and having suflered heavily from the subsequent 
cannonade, the Prince moved his division to the left 
to the old Smolensk road. 

Meanwhile Baggevoot had reached the left, and was 
supporting Shakhovski against Junot's Westphalians with 
four regiments, while the remainder of the division joined 
Tuchkov in an attack on Poniatovski. This was success- 
ful and the Poles were driven back on Utitza after a fierce 
struggle in which the gallant Tuchkov was mortally 


Thus, at midday, after six hours' fighting, the Russians 
were still in possession of their original line with the 
exception of the part of it about Semyonovskaya. 
Some time previously an offensive movement had 
been undertaken from the Russian right against 
the troops left behind the Kalocha by the Viceroy 

At about midday the whole of Uvarov's 1st Cavalry 

Corps, 2500 strong, having crossed the Kalocha, together 

with Platov's Cossacks, drove back Ornano's 

Cavalry cavalry, and appeared on Delzons' left flank 


near Borodino, but failed to accomplish any- 
thing further, although the movement had considerable 
efEect on the course of the battle. 

At one o'clock the Viceroy's troops received orders to 
renew the attack on Raevski's battery, while the Young 
Guard and the reserve cavalry moved to support him. 
The fire of seventy-six guns was brought to bear on the 
battery, and the attack was about to begin when Uvarov's 
cavalry created the diversion referred to above. This 
caused the return of a considerable portion of Eugene's 
corps across the river with a view to repel what was 
thought to be a serious attack on the French left and 
rear. But although Uvarov did not accomplish much, his 
movement had the effect of delaying for an hour the 
decisive attack on the Russian centre, while for a time 
it paralysed all movements on the French side and gave 


the Russians breathing-space in wliicli to establisli them- 
selves in their new positions. 

It was two o'clock. Arrangements were now made to 
renew the attack on Raevski's battery, while the French 
„ right was to press forward beyond Semyo- 

attackonthenovskaya. The Russians, seeing that the 
hostile forces were gathering for the attack, 
exchanged the shattered corps of Raevski for Osterman's 
corps, which moved into the first line with its right on 
the main road and its left towards Semyonovskaya. It 
appeared to their enemies as though they were about to 
make an ofiensive movement, and a mass of artillery was 
brought to bear upon them. But the Russian troops 
remained firm under this devastating cannonade, while 
their guns replied, and a general duel of artillery raged 
along the entire front, where on either side 800 guns 
vomited forth death upon their opponents. 

The attack on the Raevski battery was led by Caulain- 
court with some cavalry, followed by the divisions of 
Morand, Gerard and Broussier. On the Russian side 
Osterman was sustained by the 2nd and 3rd Cavalry 

Caulaincourt charged the battery with strength and 

_ ^ . courage, overthrew some of the Russian 
Capture of . ° 

Raevski's infantry, and forced an entrance at the 

head of his cuirassiers, but was himself 

killed, while his horsemen suffered severely and would 


have been entirely destroyed. But tlie Viceroy Eugene's 
columns were swarming in ; tlie redoubt was captured ; 
its defenders being slain, and the Russian line was driven 
back behind the ravine in rear, after a final charge by 
Grouchy, who was forced to retire by the cavalry of the 
Russian guard. 

It was now three o'clock. The !French were at length 
in possession of the field of battle, but the Russians, 
driven back from their fixst position at all points, still 
showed a front behind the Semyonovka to the high- 
road about Gorki. Only the troops on both sides 
were exhausted, and the battle now became merely 
a cannonade. 

Poniatovski, when he saw that Ney and Davout were 
successful, had in the meantime attacked the mamelon 
behind Utitza ; and the Russians at that point, now 
under command of Baggevoot, fell back into line with 
the broken remnants of Bagration's troops at the source 
of the Semyonovka. The cannonade continued until 
The Battle nightfall, but the battle was practically at an 
^^^^ end. Napoleon had still in hand the 19,000 

men of his Guard, but did not employ them. He himself 
rode forward to Semyonovskaya at four o'clock, and 
returned to his camp at seven, when, " contrary to his 
usual demeanour, his face was heated, his hair in dis- 
order, and his whole air one of fatigue." 

At six o'clock in the evening the Russians occupied 


positions as follows : — the 6tli Infantry Corps was on the 
right flank at the battery near Gorki, from whence the 
Russian ^^^^ ^i^® extended in the direction of Semyo- 
Position novskaya ; the 4th Infantry Corps was on the 
left flank of the 6th ; the remains of the Second Army 
were farther to the left ; the 3rd and the greater part of 
the 2nd Infantry Corps under Baggevoot stood apart, on 
both sides of the old Smolensk road, in prolongation of the 
line occupied by the troops of the Second Army. The 
Cavalry Corps were in the second line, and the 5th Corps 
was in reserve. The position had no advantages for 
defence ; behind it, at a distance of about two thousand 
yards, the route of retreat to Moscow lay parallel to it. 
An attack by the Guard must have had a decisive efiect. 
The sun was still high when Murat sent General Belliard 
to Napoleon to ask for the co-operation of the Guard. 
Napoleon rode to the Semyonovskaya heights and thence 
to Raevski's battery. Everywhere he saw the Russians 
standing in expectation of a renewal of the battle. But 
the Emperor said : " I will not have my Guard destroyed. 
At a distance of eight hundred leagues from France one 
does not destroy one's last reserve." 

The Russian loss amounted to some 44,000 men ; the 
French had not less than 28,000 casualties. 

Knowing the disposition of both armies, it is not diffi- 
cult to criticise the actions of the combatants at the battle 
of Borodino. The faulty occupation of the position by 


the Russians, wlio were weak on their left, where strength 

was essential, has already been noted. This was to some 

extent remedied during the battle by the 

constant movement of troops from the right 

wing to the decisive points of the field. The position of 
the Russian Commander-in-Chief appears also to have 
been faulty. Kutuzov was inactive from age and de- 
crepitude, and at Gorki he was little able to see what 
was going on or to exercise influence on the course of 
events. He was fortunate in having able and devoted 
subordinates and good stafi officers. Uvarov's move- 
ment against the French left and rear would have been 
more effective had a force of all arms been employed, 
but no doubt every gun and every available man was 
required elsewhere. As it was, it exercised a considerable 
effect on the operations, delaying the final attack on the 
centre, and perhaps influencing Napoleon in his decision 
to retain the Guard in reserve. 

Napoleon's plan of attack would probably have met 
with success had the assault on the Russian left been made 
in greater strength to begin with. But the battle was 
almost a purely frontal battle ; for Poniatovski's move- 
ment against the left was in the fijst instance little more 
than a demonstration. 

In some battles success depends upon the first shock ; 
or it may depend upon effort concentrated at the end 
of the action. At Waterloo, for instance, the decisive 


moment for Wellington was when Blucher and Ms 
Prussians approached. At Borodino Napoleon was in 
vastly superior force on his right when the battle opened ; 
that was the decisive moment when the concentration 
of strength against the Russian left would have decided 
the battle ; but the somewhat desultory nature of the 
attack and its distribution gave time for the weak Russian 
left to hold out until they were reinforced by 40,000 men 
who had been erroneously posted on their right. 

The troops of Ney and Davout might well have been 
employed in their full strength in the first attack on the 
Russian left, while Eugene " held " the centre. When 
Eugene did attack, his attack should have been carried 
out, not with Morand's division only, as it was at ten 
o'clock, but with his entire strength, as it was between 
two and three o'clock. Eventually, but too late, the 
whole Russian line was forced from the centre at Raevski's 
redoubt, from Semyonovskaya and from beyond Utitza. 
This was done against the entire strength of the Russian 
army. How much more easily, then, it might have been 
accomplished by a decisive attack before the enemy had 
been able to correct the faulty disposition of his troops. 

The columns of attack were disposed in great depth. 
A wider distribution would have facilitated the turning 
of the Russian left. 

Napoleon has been blamed for not employing the 19,000 
men of his Guard to confirm the victory. Certainly he 


would seem to have acted in this against his own maxim — 
" Generals who save troops for the next day are always 
beaten," as he did in the general conduct of the battle 
contrary to his other maxim : " Never make a frontal 
attack upon a position which you can circumvent." 
But the circumstances have to be considered. There 
were still in view behind the enemy's left 10,000 men in 
reserve. That these consisted of the Moscow militia 
armed with pikes was not known to the French Emperor. 
The strategical situation has to be taken into account. 
At a distance of 800 leagues from France ; in 
a hostile country, short of transport and supplies, the 
position of the French army in case of reverse would have 
been one of supreme danger. But it may be doubted 
whether the old Napoleon, the General of Italy, of 
Marengo, of Austerlitz, and of Jena would have been so 
cautious. He would surely have used his reserves up to 
the last man to secure a decisive victory. 

When all has been considered it certainly appears that 
Napoleon did not in this battle display the greatness of 
conception and vigour in execution that marked his 
previous victories. He showed unwonted caution. He 
did not dominate the issue as was his former habit. This 
has by some been ascribed to the state of his health. 
But, although suffering from indisposition, he preserved 
all his faculties. The problem was a simple one — to 
destroy the Russian left, and every efiort should have 


been directed to tlie attainment of that object at tlie 
beginning of the day. 

At the same time we must remember what Napoleon 
himself said in Italy in 1797 : " Health is indispensable 
in war " ; and, a few years later : " There is but one season 
for war ; I shall be fit for it six years longer, and then I 
shall myself be obliged to stop." He had passed the 
limit set by himself when the highest efficiency could 
be expected. 



Russian Retreat — The Russians abandon Moscow — Napoleon 
enters Moscow — The Burning of the City — Russian March 
to Podolsk — Pursuit by French Advanced Guard — French 
Movements — Napoleon proposes Peace — Measures for the 
Future — Napoleon's Appreciation of the Situation — The 
Question of Retreat — Action at Vinkovo — Evacuation of 
Moscow — Operations on the Dwina — Events in Volhynia 

After the battle of Borodino, Kutuzov decided to retreat. 
His army, reduced to some 50,000 men, was in no condition 
Russian ^^ make a further stand. On the morning 
Retreat ^f ^}^q q^}^ September the Russians retreated 
before dawn, and halted beyond Mozhaisk, leaving a 
rearguard under Platov, which remained on the field of 
battle until eleven o'clock. 

They were pursued by an advanced guard under Murat, 
consisting of the cavalry and Dufour's (late Friand's) 
division. Mortier with the Young Guard and Davout's 
corps followed, and after them Ney and the Old Guard. 
Poniatovski marched by the old Smolensk road, and 
afterwards turned to the right towards Borisov, and 
the Viceroy Eugene moved on Ruza to the left of the 
main army. Junot remained on the field of battle 
to look after the wounded, afterwards halting at 


Mozhaisk until Napoleon's army returned thither from 

On the 8th Napoleon remained in his camp at 
Shivardino ; "he seemed overwhelmed by fatigue ; from 
time to time he clasped his hands violently over his 
crossed knees, and was frequently heard to repeat with 
a kind of convulsive movement — ' Moscow ! Moscow ! ' " 

That day the Russian army retreated to Zemlino, while 
the rearguard remained at Mozhaisk until driven out next 
day by Murat. They left behind 10,000 wounded, who 
were turned into the streets by the French to make room 
for their own sick and wounded. On the 10th September 
the Russians retreated to Krutitzi, and their rearguard, 
now commanded by Miloradovich, made a stand at 
Krimskoye. The rearguard held their own when Murat 
attacked them, and did not retire until they had suffered 
a loss of 2000 men. The French casualties were no less in 
number. This day Kutuzov enrolled 14,000 men of the 
Moscow militia to form third ranks in his regiments. On 
the 11th he reached Bolshaya Viazyoma and next day 
Mamonova. He had been engaged in reorganising his 
army during the retreat from Borodino. Those infantry 
regiments which had less than 300 men under arms 
were formed into battalions ; the 2nd and 3rd Cavalry 
Corps were formed into one corps under Baron Korf. 
Konovnitzin was appointed to command the 3rd Infantry 
Corps in place of Tuchkov, killed in the battle. 


On the 13tli September tlie Russian army bivouacked 
outside Moscow, two versts from tbe Dragomilov gate. 
In view of the slow pursuit Kutuzov feared that the 
Viceroy Eugene might turn his right and occupy Moscow 
in his rear. Winzingerode's detachment, reinforced by 
a regiment of hussars and two of Cossacks, was directed 
to guard against such a movement. Winzingerode had 
been operating in rear of the French, and was at Ruza, 
north of Mozhaisk, on the 8th September. Finding 
himself close to the Viceroy Eugene's encampment, he 
made a night march, got ahead of him on the Moscow 
road, and was then posted on the Vladimir road. 

Kutuzov in the first instance intended to give battle 
again under the walls of Moscow. A position was taken 
up and partly entrenched, the right in front of the village 
of Fili, the left on the Vorobyovia Gori — the Sparrow 
Hills. But it was represented to the Russian Commander- 
in-Chief that in a position so unfavourable defeat was 
certain. He decided to abandon Moscow and continue 
his retreat ; but as he did not desire to take the entire 
responsibility of abandoning the ancient capital, he called 
a council of war. The council, however, were mostly in 
favour of fighting, though Barclay de Tolly indicated the 
futility of courting certain defeat, when Moscow must be 
lost in any case, and the Russian army would in addition 
be rendered useless for further operations. Kutuzov 
gave orders for the retreat. The army was to retire by 



the Riazan road and then cross over to the Kaluga road. 
Supplies had been collected at Serpukhov, from whence 
they could be distributed with equal facility on either 
road. Count Rastopchin, the Governor of Moscow, 
reported that most of the inhabitants had already left 
the city. Those who remained were ordered by Kutuzov 
to be sent to Riazan. Rastopchin reported to the 
Emperor that all the commisariat and arsenal had been 
removed. But this was not the fact, for over 100 guns, 
18,000 small arms, powder, and other supplies were 
left to the enemy. 

Moscow is the heart of Russia. Upon its time-worn 
walls broods the spirit of a thousand years of veneration. 
The Within rise a thousand spires of varied colour 

abandon^ and Oriental aspect. In its hundreds of 
Moscow sacred edifices are sheltered the icons — the 
sacred images — before which a primitive people bent 
in reverential homage. But the Russians decided to 
abandon their ancient capital. The remainder of the 
population left on the 13th and 14th September, and 
before dawn on the latter date the Russian army began 
the march through the city. Their baggage had been 
despatched during the night. The troops followed by 
way of the Dragomilov gate, preceded by the cavalry, 
the whole army marching in one long column to the exit 
by the Kolomen gate. They continued their march to 
the village of Panki, seventeen versts distant. The 


rearguard under Miloradovich. followed, and would have 
had to fight with Murat's advanced guard in the town 
had not an agreement been arrived at between the 
opposing commanders to admit of peaceful evacuation. 

Meanwhile the French army was drawing near Moscow ; 
on the night of the 13th the main body was at Perkush- 
kovo. The flanking columns were almost abreast — 
Poniatovski at Likova on the new Kaluga road, and the 
Viceroy Eugene at Buzaeva, marching by the Zvenigorod 
road on the right bank of the Moscow river. The French 
advanced guard entered practically in touch with the 
rearguard of the retreating army. 

Napoleon passed the night of the 13th September at 

Viazyoma, forty versts from Moscow. At dawn he set out 

^, , in a carriage, but later mounted his horse as 

Napoleon . . . , . 

enters the road at one point was impracticable owmg 

to the destruction of a bridge. At two o'clock 

in the afternoon the Emperor ascended the Poklonnaya 

Gora (Mount of Salutation) and obtained his first view 

of Moscow. He dismounted, and examined the city for 

some time with the aid of a telescope, while his secretary 

and Russian interpreter, Lelorgne, who knew the place 

well, pointed out the principal features. He appeared 

pleased, and exclaimed : " So that is at last the famous 

city ! " adding, " It was time ! " A cannon shot was 

the signal for the army to move on. Napoleon rode to 

the Dragomilov gate. With shouts of " Long live the 


Emperor ! Long live Napoleon ! " the French soldiers 
entered the Russian capital. Napoleon awaited in vain 
the expected deputation at the Dragomilov gate. 
" What," he exclaimed, " Moscow empty ! What an 
unheard of thing ; go and bring me the hoyars ! " But 
there remained only some gaol-birds, let loose from the 
prisons, and a few foreigners. No one else received the 
conqueror. The mighty actor on the world's stage 
appeared before an empty house ! Not thus had he been 
received at Milan, Vienna, Berlin and Madrid ! Already 
The Burning o^i^o^^ colunms of smoke were to be seen 
of the City rising from the houses. The incendiaries 
were at work. Napoleon took up his residence in the 
Kremlin. He was driven forth by flames, and moved 
to the Petrovski Palace. In a few days the greater 
part of Moscow was reduced to ashes. At first the 
Russians accused the invaders of this act of vandalism. 
Afterwards it was claimed as a patriotic deed on the 
part of the Governor, Count Rastopchin, and the in- 
habitants. It was more probably the work of marauders. 
Moscow, mainly built of wood, was lighted easily and 
burnt quickly. If the burning of Moscow was a pre- 
meditated act, it is not easy to see what was to be gained 
by it. If it was designed to show the invaders that their 
enemy was implacable and would never come to terms, 
it might, had they so taken it, have warned them in time 
to ef!ect a safe retreat. Or it might have caused them to 


advance at once on Kaluga. To burn Moscow in the 
middle of September could serve but little purpose. 
There were supplies more ample than could be destroyed. 
To have arranged for incendiary fires at the end of 
October would have been to deprive the French of 
quarters on the approach of winter, or forced them to 
retreat when the climatic conditions were most severe. 

It is a curious circumstance that a Belgian named 
Smidt proposed to assist in the destruction of the invading 
army with a balloon or flying machine, from which bombs 
and rockets were to be discharged. His project was 
seriously considered by the Government, but came to 
nothing. He and his balloon were removed to Nijni 
Novgorod when the Grand Army approached Moscow. 

It is a question whether the French were wise in not 
harassing the Russians during their evacuation of the 
city. For Napoleon to refuse battle must have increased 
the steadfastness of the Russian Government, as it pointed 
to the exhaustion of their enemies. No doubt he did 
not wish to lose more men, while he counted on peace 
following on the occupation of the capital. 

On the day of the French occupation of Moscow the 

Russian army marched fifteen versts on the Riazan 

. road to the village of Panki ; the rearguard 


March to under Miloradovich halted less than haK that 

distance at Viazovka. A halt was made to 

cover the escape of the inhabitants of Moscow. The 


marcli was resumed on tlie IGtli September, and next day 
after the passage of the Moskva River at Borovski Most, 
where the rearguard, now composed of fresh troops under 
Raevski, was left, Kutuzov executed a flank movement 
by forced marches and reached Podolsk on the 19th. 
During this movement the right flank was covered by 
the Pakhra River. The rearguard, having destroyed the 
bridge at Borovski, marched by night, leaving Ephrimov 
with two Cossack regiments on the Riazan road. 

On the 21st the army reached Krasnaya Pakhra, where 
it was covered by a detachment under Miloradovich, 
posted at Desna. It was at this time that the Russians 
began those partisan operations with detachments of 
Cossacks that contributed to the destruction of the in- 
vading army, by acting on their line of communications, 
attacking convoys, and finally by harassing the retreating 

The French vanguard under Sebastiani had meanwhile 

been sent on by Murat, who remained in Moscow, 

and had followed the Russians down the 

French ^ Riazan road. Sebastiani mistook Ephrimov's 

Advanced Cossacks for the Russian rearguard, and 
Guard ... 

marched as far as Bronnitzi, whilst Murat, 

completely deceived, informed Napoleon that the 

Russian army had dispersed, leaving only Cossacks. 

But on reaching Bronnitzi, Sebastiani became convinced 

that he had been led astray. 


Napoleon heard on the night of the 21st September 
that his advanced guard had lost sight of the Russian 
army, and that Cossacks had appeared on the Mozhaisk 
road and attacked his transport. He at once sent 
Poniatovski's corps to Podolsk, and directed Murat to 
take command of these troops and those on the Riazan 
road and follow the Russians. Bessieres was sent with 
a corps of observation on the road to Tula, whence he 
subsequently moved on to the old Kaluga road. Some 
cavalry, subsequently reinforced by guns and Broussier's 
division, was sent towards Mozhaisk, and Napoleon 
himself prepared to move in order to drive the Russians 
beyond the Oka. 

The Russian flank movement from the Riazan to the 
Kaluga road enabled them to cover Kaluga, where there 
were great stores of provisions, and Tula with its arms 
factory, and at the same time to maintain communication 
with the southern regions of the Empire, whence all 
necessary supplies could be drawn. It also placed them 
in a position to act against the enemy's communications, 
and detachments of cavalry were appointed for this 

The French army, meanwhile, remained for some time 
in inaction in Moscow, where Napoleon had up to the 26th 
French September no reliable information as to the 
Movements position of the Russians. Poniatovski was 
ordered to Podolsk on the 24:th September, and next day 


Murat moved to that place witli all his cavalry. At the 
same time Bessieres approached Desna. These move- 
ments forced back the Kussian detachments, which 
drew the French cavalry away from the main Kussian 

There are three roads leading from Moscow to Kaluga, 
the shortest of which passes through Krasnaya-Pakhra 
and Tarutino. Kutuzov decided to take up and 
strengthen a position at the latter place, there awaiting 
reinforcements and the development of events before 
undertaking any further operations with the main army. 

Napoleon had hoped that the occupation of the capital 

would lead the enemy to sue for peace. He lingered in 

Moscow in this expectation, sent Lauriston, 
Napoleon . 

proposes formerly ambassador in St Petersburg, to 
negotiate an armistice with Kutuzov and 
make overtures to the Tzar. Kutuzov temporised ; de- 
spatched an envoy to the Tzar with the French pro- 
posals, which were, however, indefinite, and at the same 
time urged Alexander to make no terms. Napoleon 
had mistaken the Tzar's character. That monarch dis- 
played unexpected firmness and decision, and adhered 
to his previous resolution, that he would not consider 
terms of peace so long as a French soldier remained on 
Russian soil, nor would he communicate with the French 

The long halt in Moscow after the hardships and 


privations tlirougli whicli the soliders had passed, the 
evacuation of the city by its inhabitants, and the fires 
by which the place was devastated reacted on the dis- 
cipline of the troops. The men abandoned themselves 
to disorder, and marauding did not cease until the Em- 
peror took stringent measures to restore discipline when 
he returned from the Petrovski Palace to the Kremlin. 
This was on the 19th September after the conflagration 

In the meantime Napoleon was obliged to consider his 
measures for the future. He had several alternatives. 

The possibility of remaininsf in the Moscow 
Measures . 7 . 

for the for the winter had to be immediately dis- 

missed. He might move northwards at once, 
and threaten St Petersburg, in the hope of thus forcing 
the Russians to conclude peace. Or he could march 
north-west to the Lower Dwina, where he would be in a 
position to menace St Petersburg, and at the same time 
avoid the appearance of a retreat, which would demoralise 
his army and have a dangerous efiect in Prussia and 
throughout Europe generally. Or he could retreat by 
Kaluga towards Warsaw and Grodno through a region 
that had not yet been ravaged by war. Situated as he 
was, with a hostile army of constantly increasing strength 
in the neighbourhood, it would have been foolhardy to 
march direct on St Petersburg, and risk being cut ofi 
from his base. But a movement towards the Lower 


Dwina, supported by Victor, who could march, with 

40,000 men from Polotzk to Velikiya Luki, whilst the 

Emperor advanced on Velizh, would open the way for 

further operations. He could then have moved on 

Novgorod with 140,000 men, or at the worst could have 

retreated towards Polotzk and Vitebsk, where he would 

have been supported by Oudinot and Macdonald on the 

Lower Dwina. As for the southern project, Kutuzov 

already barred the way to Kaluga. The French army 

was scarcely in a condition to fight another battle 

with an enemy whose strength was being continuously 


The Emperor's appreciation of the situation is recorded 

in the following undated notes, probably dictated by him 

during the first days of October : — 

App^eciSion " (1) Since the enemy is moving to the 

2!.}^^^. Kiev road, their intention is evident ; they 

Situation ; . 

expect reinforcements from the Moldavian 
army. To march against them would mean to manoeuvre 
in the direction of the reinforcements and winter in 
cantonments without any point d^appui, with our flanks 
exposed, while the enemy's flanks and rear would be 
secure. Moscow, abandoned by its inhabitants and burnt,. 
is no longer of any use to us ; the city can no longer 
harbour our sick and wounded ; if the supplies there are 
once exhausted, it can furnish no fresh ones, nor assist us 
in establishing order in the country. 


" (2) k movement on Kaluga would only be excusable 
with a view of retreating from that place to Smolensk. 

" (3) If the army is to retreat to Smolensk, would 
there be any reason in seeking the enemy and exposing 
ourselves to the loss of some thousands of men on a 
march which would appear like a retreat, and in the face 
of an army well acquainted with the country and having 
many secret agents and numerous light cavalry ? Even 
though the French army were victorious, such a move- 
ment would place it at a disadvantage, since a rearguard 
loses men daily, whilst a vanguard gains strength. More- 
over a rearguard has to abandon a battlefield daily, and 
loses its woimded, stragglers and camp followers. 

*' (4) To these considerations must be added the 
probability of the enemy fortifying themselves in a strong 
position, and, the heads of the reinforcing columns 
having arrived, causing us a loss of 3000 or 4000 wounded ; 
this would look like defeat. A retrograde movement 
for a hundred leagues, burthened with wounded, and 
harassed by encounters represented by the enemy as 
victories, would ensure him, even though beaten, the 
advantage of public opinion. 

" (5) If we desire to retreat in order to occupy winter 
quarters in Poland, would it be advisable to retreat by 
the direct route by which we advanced ? We should 
not be harassed by the enemy ; we are well acquainted 
with the road, which is shorter by five days' march ; we 


can march as rapidly as we like and meet our supplies 
half-way from Smolensk. However, the army could 
easily carry a fortnight's flour, and we could reach 
Smolensk without being obliged to forage. We could 
even stop at Vyazma as long as we wished, and procure 
supplies by extending right and left. 

" We are conquerors, our organisation is perfect, and 
if we had to fight and carry our wounded, we should be 
in the same position as during the advance, when the 
advanced guard had some wounded. It is true difficulties 
may arise with regard to fodder, but we could procure 
that within two or three leagues, and the difficulty would 
not be serious. 

" (1) There can be no doubt but that, if Smolensk and 
Vitebsk were districts like Koenigsberg and Elbing, the 
first would be the most sensible plan, namely, to march 
to a favourable country, go into winter quarters, and 
recruit the army. 

" (2) In such case, however, we cannot conceal from 
ourselves that the war would be greatly protracted, but 
it would still be more protracted if we chose inhospitable 
districts such as Smolensk and Vitebsk, which offer scanty 
resources and are little suited for eight months in winter 

" What ought to be done : 

" (I.) What results are to be attained ? (i) To quarter 


the Emperor as near France as possible, and satisfy the 
country that he would be in the midst of a friendly 
population in winter quarters, (ii) To admit of the army 
being cantoned in a friendly country, near its supplies 
of clothing and equipment. 

" (iii) To occupy a position threatening St Petersburg, 
and so support the Emperor in his negotiations for peace, 
(iv) To maintain our military reputation at the height to 
which it has been raised by this victorious campaign. 

" (II.) A manoeuvre combining these four conditions 
would undoubtedly be perfect. 

" This manoeuvre would be as follows : — 

" The Duke of Belluno (Victor) with his corps reinforced 
by four battalions of Saxons, two battalions of West- 
phalians, two or three battalions of Illyrians, and two 
battalions of the 129th Infantry Eegiment, bringing it up 
to a force of nearly 40,000 men, would leave Smolensk the 
first day of the operation, and march to Velizh and Velikya 
Luki, where it would arrive on the eighth or ninth day ; 
from Velikya Luki the Duke of Belluno would take his 
line of operations on Polotzk and Vitebsk. Marshal St 
Cyr, leaving his position at Polotzk, would reinforce him 
in six days. 

" The Duke of Tarentum (Macdonald) would send him, 
from the environs of Dinaburg, a brigade of infantry. 

" The Duke of Belluno, as the senior, would command 
all these troops united at Velikya Luki, where, on the 


tenth day from the commencement of the movement, an 
army of 70,000 men would be concentrated. At Velikya 
Luki the army would draw supplies from Polotzk and 

" On the day when the Duke of Belluno began his 
movement, the Emperor would leave Moscow with the 
army and march on Velizh by Voskresensk, so that the 
head of the army would reach Velizh on the tenth day, and 
its rear on the thirteenth or fourteenth day. At Velizh 
the army would draw supplies equally from Vitebsk and 
Polotzk. Thus, while the Duke of Belluno menaced St 
Petersburg from his position at Velikya Luki, the army 
would be behind him on the Dwina ; the 3rd Corps and 
the corps of the Duke of Abrantes (Junot), numbering 
at least 15,000 men, would march from Moscow and 
Mozhaisk on Smolensk by way of Vyazma. 

" All the cavalry and infantry regiments on the march 
to join the army would be directed on Vitebsk and Velizh, 
to meet the army and incorporate themselves with it on 
arrival. The Emperor, with the Cavalry of the Guard, 
the Old Guard and the Young Guard, would be at the 
head of the army, in order to be in a position to support 
the Duke of Belluno in case of necessity. Finally, on the 
twelfth day of the operation, that is to say, of the move- 
ment of the army, the position would be as follows : — 

" The Duke of Belluno with Marshal St Cyr and one 
of the Duke of Tarentum's brigades, forming a corps of 


60,000 or 70,000 men, would be at Velikya Luki, having 
an advanced guard several marches on the road to St 

" The Emperor with the Guard and the Viceroy's 
corps, 40,000 men, would be at Velizh. 

" The King of Naples, with his troops and the corps of 
the Prince of Eckmuhl (Davout), would form a kind of 
rearguard or corps of observation three days in rear, 
in the direction of Byeloi. 

" The hostile army could not enter Moscow until the 
sixth day of the operation, and General Wittgenstein 
would already be in retreat ; the Duke of Belluno would 
have passed the Dwina, and would be menacing St Peters- 
burg. The hostile army, arrived at Moscow six days after 
our departure, would follow our movement to deliver 
battle at Velizh, and then the King of Naples, the Prince 
of Eckmuhl (Davout) and the Duke of Elchingen (Ney) 
would have joined us, while the reinforcements expected 
from Moldavia by the enemy would not have joined him 
and would have lost themselves on the main roads. He 
would then arrive before us with very inferior forces 
which would diminish daily, whilst ours would be 

"The Duke of Belluno, five days after his arrival at 
Velil^ya Luki, reinforced by the corps marching with the 
Emperor, could in case of necessity advance to Novgorod. 
St Petersburg being thus threatened, one must believe 


that tlie enemy would make peace, and if the circum- 
stances of the movements of the enemy did not tend to 
advance, we could remain at Velikya Luki." 

As these projects did not fructify it is unnecessary to 
comment on them, but it may be remarked that the whole 
scheme bears an appearance of unreality, of a desire 
to mould circumstances in accordance with Napoleon's 
wishes, and that it makes several unwarrantable 

Napoleon still remained in Moscow, awaiting a reply 
to his proposals from St Petersburg. Twenty days had 
elapsed since his entry into the ancient capital 
tion of of Russia. It was imperative to consider the 
question of retreat. He has been blamed for 
hesitating so long, for winter was approaching. But in 
criticising the Emperor, factors of the widest range have 
to be taken into consideration. It was not to be supposed 
that Napoleon would be willing to retreat except as a 
last resort. Much as his army had suffered in strength 
and discipline during the advance, he knew it would suffer 
still more in a retreat. He had scarcely sujB&cient horses 
to mount half his cavalry, and to draw those guns the 
greater number of which may to-day be seen in the 
Kremlin, where they were taken when abandoned on 
the march. Europe might rise in his rear, and he had 
unfriendly elements in his army — Austrians, Prussians 


and Westplialians — who would be ready to abandon a 
lost cause. Events in Spain caused him anxiety, for 
Wellington had entered Madrid after the battle of 

In addition he feared for his line 'of communications. 
The main Eussian army was in a position to threaten it. 
The army of Moldavia under Chichagov had advanced 
against Schwarzenberg, and forced that general to retire 
behind the Bug. Warsaw and Vilna were threatened. 
Steinheil's corps from Finland had reinforced the enemy 
in Livonia, where they were now superior to Macdonald. 
To meet the situation, Victor had reached Smolensk, 
followed by Baraguey d'Hilliers with 10,000 men. 
Austria was requested to reinforce Schwarzenberg, and 
Prussia asked to send a division to Macdonald. 

But it was out of the question to remain much longer 
in Moscow. To winter there, a course which had been 
considered, was impossible. Apart from the distance 
from France, the communications were insecure, although 
hitherto partisan operations had had little effect on them. 
But even if sufficient provisions could be obtained in 
Moscow for the men, forage would not be available for 
cavalry and artillery horses and cattle during the long 
and severe winter. 

Meanwhile Murat was with the advanced guard about 
Vinkovo on the River Chernishna, sixty versts from 
Moscow. His isolated position led Kutuzov to attack 


him. Murat liad not more than 20,000 men, including 
8000 cavalry, with 187 guns. His troops were reduced 
Action at ^7 hardship and privation, and he occupied 
Vinkovo g^ position unfavourable for defence. The 
negotiations he had engaged in with Kutuzov led him to 
hope for early peace. It is said that he had been lulled 
into security by an understanding, amounting to an 
armistice, which had been concluded with the Russian 
commander. The existence of this armistice is denied 
by Russian authorities, who aver that it referred only 
to outposts. At any rate Kutuzov was quite capable of 
undertaking hostilities in any circumstances, should a 
good chance of success present itself, notwithstanding his 
inherent unwillingness to enter on active operations. A 
disposition to remain always on the defensive appears to 
be a constant characteristic of the Russian race. 

Kutuzov was at length induced to attack Murat's 
army. Reconnaissances had revealed that the French, 
either through laxness or trusting to the armistice, were 
not keeping up their protective services efficiently. A 
forest on the left of the French encampment was not 
watched or patrolled. On the 18th October the Russians 
advanced, the main army to make a frontal attack, while 
a strong corps under Bennigsen traversed the forest on 
the French left by a night march with a view to attacking 
that flank. The manoeuvre was badly executed, though 
well conceived, the flank attack arriving too late, and 


althougli the Frencli lost a general, some 1500 men and 
38 gnns, the action was in no way decisive. On the 
Kussian side Baggevoot was killed, and there were 1000 

Napoleon had already made arrangements to retreat. 
He concentrated his forces, and on the 15th October 
his light cavalry and Bronssier's division, which 
Evacuation were at Beryozki on the road to Mozhaisk, 
o oscow (jpQggg(j Qygp ^Q Fominskoye on the new 

Kaluga road, whilst the Viceroy Eugene's cavalry of the 
Guard moved to Sharpova on the Mozhaisk road. 
Napoleon inspected his troops daily, and on the 18th was 
engaged in reviewing Ney's corps in the Kremlin, when 
he heard the ominous sound of a heavy cannonade in the 
direction of Murat's advanced guard. Soon an aide-de- 
camp arrived from Murat with news that the Kussians 
had assumed the offensive. He at once stopped the 
review and gave immediate orders for the march. 

The Emperor's plan was to turn the left flank of the 
Russian army by marching first along the old Kaluga road 
which leads through Tarutino, and effecting a junction 
with Murat. Then, crossing over to the new Kaluga 
road to march through Borovsk and by way of Kaluga 
to Smolensk. His immediate object was to get to 
Maloyaroslavetz before Kutuzov became aware of his 
project. It was necessary to conceal the movement as 
long as possible, and it was perhaps for this purpose that 


Colonel Berthemy was sent to renew negotiations with 

Kutuzov, with a letter from Berthier in which it was 

proposed " to take measures to give the war a character 

in accordance with accepted measures, and to stop the 

laying waste of the country, which was as harmful to 

Russia as it was distasteful to the Emperor Napoleon." 

Kutuzov, as usual temporising, wrote that there had not 

yet been time to receive a reply to the despatch sent to 

the Tzar by Prince Volkonski. 

While the events that have been narrated were taking 

^ . place, there was considerable activity in the 

Operations ^ . "^ 

on the theatre of war where the wings of the Grand 

Army were engaged, both on the Dwina 

and in Volhynia. 

After the first battle of Polotzk, Wittgenstein's troops 
were disposed from the 23rd August to the 16th October 
with headquarters at Sivoshin on the right bank of the 
Drissa stream, and the reserve and cavalry corps at 
Sokolishchi. With the object of holding the French on 
the Drissa, Wittgenstein strengthened the defences of 
Sebezh, where his depots were stationed ; and detach- 
ments were posted at Kamenetz, to observe Macdonald, 
and on the Svolna and the road from Polotzk to Nevel 
to cover the front of the corps. He thus protected St 
Petersburg by covering the roads leading from the Dwina 
to Novgorod and Pskov. 

Marshal St Cyr did not venture to attack Wittgenstein, 


having an exaggerated idea of his strength, while his 
energies were largely directed to obtaining supplies, for 
want of which, however, his troops suffered considerably. 
In September Wittgenstein received considerable rein- 
forcements, mostly militia, amounting in all to 15,000 
men. During the period under review the only hostilities 
on the Dwina consisted of partisan operations. Later 
in October Wittgenstein received orders to attack the 
French at Polotzk, and drive them towards Sventziani ; 
he was then to leave the pursuit to Steinheil's corps, and 
to co-operate with Chichagov in cutting off the retreat of 
Napoleon's army. The result of these operations will be 
seen in the chapter dealing with the passage of the 

On conclusion of the treaty with Sweden, Steinheil's 
corps of 10,000 men, which had been posted in Finland, 
was ordered to Biga, where it arrived on the 22nd 

Macdonald had remained inactive at Dinaburg with 
the 12,000 men of Grandj can's division, while the 
Prussian troops under York were in observation before 
Riga, the garrison of which, under General Essen, made 
several sorties in July and August. 

Marshal Victor, with the corps constituting the reserve 
of the Grand Army, reached Tilsit on the 9th August. 
He had 30,000 men. This corps set out from Tilsit at 
the end of August, and, marching by way of Kovno and 


Vilna, arrived at Smolensk on the 28t]i September, after 
suffering considerable loss both in men and horses from 
want of provisions, and from disease. At Smolensk 
matters were not much better, as supplies were of inferior 

The arrival of reinforcements for Wittgenstein obliged 
Victor to take measures to support St Cyr. With this 
object Daendels' division left Smolensk for Babinovichy 
on the 11th October. At the same time Partouneaux's 
division was posted at Mstislavl, for convenience of 
supply, and Gerard's division remained in Smolensk. 
Victor now had about 25,000 men. 

After the indecisive action at Gorodechno related in 
Chapter VI., Tormassov retreated behind the Styr on the 
Events in 29th August. His main forces were posted at 
Volhynia Lutzk, with advanced detachments under 
Count Lambert and Chaplitz, the first from the Austrian 
frontier to Lutzk, the second from Lutzk to Kolki. 

Schwarzenberg and Reynier stood between the Styr 
and the Turya, with advanced posts at Torchin and 

The Russians were in a safe position, the Styr being 
unfordable from the point where it crosses the Austrian 
frontier until its junction with the Pripet, while all the 
bridges had been destroyed ; and their movements 
behind the river were concealed by the forest. On their 
side, in open and marshy country, Schwarzenberg and 


Eeynier contented themselves with holding the Russian 
army behind the Styr, and covering the communications 
of Napoleon's army on the side of Volhynia. 

On the 19th September Admiral Chichagov, released 
from operations in Wallachia by the peace with Turkey, 
arrived on the Styr. His army numbered 35,000 men 
and 204 guns. This brought the strength of the Russians 
in Volhynia up to over 60,000 men, opposed to Schwarzen- 
berg and Reynier's 43,000. 

On the 22nd and 23rd September the combined Russian 
forces crossed the Styr at several points. The allied 
troops retired in front of them, crossed the Turya, and 
concentrated at Liuboml, where they took up a position 
behind a canal, after several skirmishes between the 
protective detachments. The Russians followed, crossed 
the canal on the 30th, Schwarzenberg retiring in front 
of them. Chichagov now assumed command of the troops 
in Volhynia, and Tormassov left for Kutuzov's head- 

Schwarzenberg retired on Brest-Litovsk, and on the 
4th October took up a position betv/een the Rukavetz and 
Lyesna streams in front of that place. The Russians 
followed, crossed the Mukhavetz between Brest and 
Bulkov, and at the same time occupied Kobrin with a part 
of their forces after driving out the enemy's detachment. 
Dispositions were made to attack Schwarzenberg on the 
11th October, but the Austrian General retired behind the 


Lyesna and retreated first to Volcliin, and then, being 
pursued, crossed the Bug between Melnik and Drogicbin 
on the 12tb. CMcbagov occupied Brest Litovsk. Thus 
the allied corps were driven into the Grand Duchy of 
Warsaw, and the road to the Berezina was laid open to 
the Russian advance. 

Chichagov remained inactive at Brest for a fortnight, 
to collect supplies, but sent detachments into the Grand 
Duchy to seize the magazines and to harass the enemy. 

Schwarzenberg, after the action at Gorodechno, might 
perhaps have followed up his success and tried to deal 
Tormassov another blow before his junction with 
Chichagov. But this would in all probability have been 
inefiective, for the Russian would merely have retired 
before him until the junction was completed. . His retire- 
ment on Warsaw instead of towards Minsk, a direction 
that would have brought him into communication with 
Napoleon's army, is perhaps more open to criticism ; 
he appears to have considered first the retention of the 
shortest line of communication with Austria, on which 
there were ample supplies, in place of co-operating with 
the main army of invasion. He thus did not fulfil 
his role, which was to protect, on the right flank, the 
communications of the army. 

The curtain was now about to rise on the last act of 
this great drama, than which the history of the world can 
scarcely show a greater human tragedy. 



March of the Grand Army — Kutuzov leaves Tarutino — Malo- 
yaroslavetz — Advance or Retreat ? — Retreat — Comments 

On the evacuation of Moscow the French army numbered 
over 105,000 men and 569 guns. Of these there were 
nearly 90,000 infantry. The sick and wounded had 
been despatched as far as possible by the 
the Grand direct road to Mozhaisk, which was occupied 
^ by Junot. Mortier was left in Moscow ; 

he had orders to remain in occupation until the 23rd, 
when he was to blow up the Kremlin and public build- 
ings and march to Vereya, where he would be in a 
position to maintain communication between the main 
army and Junot. 

Napoleon left Moscow on the 19th October. Prince 
Eugene's corps formed the advanced guard, with Ney 
immediately behind ; then followed the Old Guard, two 
divisions of Davout's corps, a division of the Young 
Guard accompanying headquarters, the treasure, and 
waggons laden with trophies ; finally Morand's division 
of Davout's corps and Colbert's brigade of cavalry of the 


Guard. Tlie light cavalry marclied on either flank of 
the column. These flanking troops and the rearguard 
had orders to burn the villages en route. Napoleon 
himself arrived at Troitzkoye at four o'clock in the after- 
noon ; and the advanced guard reached Viyatutinka at 
the same time. 

The march of the French army from Moscow had 
the appearance of the migration of a people ; the 
impedimenta occupying a length of many miles. There 
were 2000 artillery carriages. Each company had 
an equipment of two or three carts for the transport 
of provisions. There was a confused assemblage of 
carriages, waggons and carts of every description, and 
even wheelbarrows, laden with booty. There were 
trophies of Russian, Turkish and Persian flags. There 
was a motley crowd of followers, including many women 
and children. 

Such were the encumbrances with which this army set 
out on a march that was to be perhaps the most difficult 
and terrible that has ever been attempted. 

On the 20th October Napoleon remained at Troitzkoye, 
while the advanced guard, having reached Krasnaya 
Pakhra, took a cross-country track to Fominskoye on the 
new Kaluga road. The same day Ney's corps effected a 
junction with Murat on the Mocha, while Poniatovski 
fell in in rear of the advanced guard under Eugene, and 
was afterwards directed on Vereya. 


On the 21st Napoleon readied Pleskovo, near Ignatovo, 
and Eugene — ^Fominskoye. Thus the movement towards 
Borovsk continued. Orders were given to Junot to march 
on Vyazma. Mortier had left Moscow for Mozhaisk on 
the 23rd, after fulfilling his instructions, although 
fortunately not much damage was done to the Kremlin. 
He took with him General Winzingerode, who, foolishly 
venturing into Moscow with an aide-de-camp, was taken 

Napoleon galloped on to Borovsk on the 23rd, and 
ordered Eugene, who had arrived the previous evening, 
to continue the movement on Maloyaroslavetz. But 
Eugene observed the movement of Russian troops on 
his left, and moved slowly, thinking that the Emperor 
might be attacked at Borovsk, when he would be obliged 
to retrace his footsteps. 

Kutuzov, hearing of the march of Eugene on Borovsk, 

but unaware that Napoleon was retreating, thought this 

an isolated movement, and conceived the idea 

leaves of attacking these 10,000 men, detaching for 

this purpose 25,000 men under Dokhturov. 
But Dokhturov received information from Seslavin's 
Cossacks of the march of the whole French army, and 
changed his direction to Maloyaroslavetz. The Russian 
Commander-in-Chief, on this news, struck camp at 
Tarutino on the 24:th October, and also marched on 
Maloyaroslavetz, which Dokhturov occupied on the 24th, 


after expelling Eugene's advanced guard. Kutuzov liad 
97,000 men and 622 guns. 

The town of Maloyaroslavetz stands upon a lieiglit 
overlooking the River Luzha on the north, from which 
Maloyaros- direction the French were approaching, 
lavetz Beyond the town is a lofty plain surrounded 

by forest, traversed by roads from Kaluga and Tarutino. 
Delzons, who commanded Prince Eugene's advanced 
guard, had occupied the town on the evening of the 23rd 
with two battalions only, fearing to push his whole 
force beyond the river and defile on the edge of a precipice 
down which he might be driven by a night attack. At 
daybreak Dokhturov attacked and drove the French out 
of the town and back on to the division below. Prince 
Eugene was some six miles distant when the sound of the 
guns warned him of the action. He hurried forward 
with his remaining forces to support Delzons, who was 
with difficulty maintaining his hold on the bank of the 
Luzha, in a position exposed to the fire of the Russians 
on the heights above. The Prince ordered an attack, and 
the French pressed over the bridge across the river, drove 
back the masses of Russians who filled the ravine which 
led up to the town, and soon their bayonets glittered on 
the heights above. But here Delzons was killed, and his 
troops, disheartened, hesitated and fell back. 

Reinforcements were now coming up on both sides. 
The battle continued throughout the day, the town being 


taken and retaken again and again. But tlie Kussians 
were more numerous and continued to arrive. They 
occupied a strong and commanding position, and it was 
only after the exhaustion of all his troops that Eugene 
finally held the town, while the enemy assembled their 
forces on the road to Kaluga, between Maloyaroslavetz 
and the forest. Towards evening the whole French army 
arrived near the scene of action, and two of Davout's 
divisions were moved forward to support Eugene. 

The two armies were now facing each other, Kutuzov 
barring the road to Kaluga, by which Napoleon had 
Advance or iiitended to retreat through Yelnya on 
Retreat ? Smolensk. His expressed intention had been 
" to fight a battle should the enemy think of covering 
Kaluga." The Emperor had his headquarters at 
Gorodnya, some miles in rear. Napoleon now showed 
an indecision and a want of resolution that were new 
to him. He summoned the marshals, and asked their 
opinion as to " whether it was to the advantage of the 
army to fight or to avoid battle." The generals advised 
a retreat either direct on Smolensk or through Mozhaisk. 
It was the morning of the 25th, and the Emperor rode 
forward to reconnoitre the enemy's position. Soon after 
he started, some thousands of Platov's Cossacks rode 
close up to Napoleon, who was only saved by the presence 
of mind of his stafi and the timely arrival of the cavalry 
of the Guard, who extricated him when he and his suite 


were surrounded and had drawn their swords to defend 
themselves. The Emperor spent the day in reconnoitring 
the Russian position, and returned to Grorodnya without 
having come to a decision. He certainly had reason 
to hesitate. Kutuzov had 90,000 men and 600 guns 
drawn up to bar his passage. Napoleon had 70,000 men 
and 300 guns, and his soldiers were no longer possessed 
of the spirit which inspired them when they crossed the 
Niemen. At this distance from France he had every 
reason to preserve the strength of his army as far as 

The enemy was in a position two and a half versts 
beyond Maloyaroslavetz. The French forces were 
distributed between that place and Mozhaisk. Davout's 
corps and two cavalry corps stood in front of Maloyaro- 
slavetz ; the Viceroy Eugene occupied the town and the 
valley of the Luzha ; the Guard and two cavalry corps 
were between that place and Gorodnya ; Ney with two 
divisions was between Gorodnya and Borovsk ; 
Marchand's division behind that town ; Poniatovski in 
Vereya ; Mortier on the road from Kubinskoye to 
Vereya ; Junot in Mozhaisk ; the artillery park and 
baggage at Borovsk, Gorodnya, and between that place 
and Maloyaroslavetz. 

On the morning of the 26th October Napoleon again 
rode towards Maloyaroslavetz with the Guard and two 
cavalry corps. He stopped at a bivouac fire short of the 


Luzha River, and at nine o'clock received information 
tliat the Russians were retreating. They had left only 
a rearguard in front of Maloyaroslavetz to cover their 
retirement to Goncharovo. 

Napoleon now decided to retreat to Mozhaisk and 
thence on Smolensk, although he was thus selecting a 
route that had been exhausted of supplies during the 
advance, when he might have marched by Medyn to 
Yukhnov and Yelnya. He had on the 24th written 
to Victor to send Gerard's division and a light 
cavalry brigade to meet the army by that route ; 
he now changed the order, directing him to send by 
Vyazma and Dorogobuzh, with as many supplies as 

The Guard and two cavalry corps were now sent back 
to Borovsk, followed by Prince Eugene's corps ; Davout, 
together with two cavalry corps, was left as 
rearguard. Ney, with all the baggage at 
Borovsk, was ordered to Vereya, to march next day to 
Mozhaisk ; Poniatovski to take post at Yegoryevskoye, 
to cover the left flank of the army, and afterwards to 
march to Gzhatsk ; Mortier was to hasten on from 
Vereya to Mozhaisk and Vyazma ; Junot to move to 
Vyazma as soon as Mortier reached Mozhaisk. Davout 
was to march from Maloyaroslavetz with the rearguard 
at ten o'clock in the evening. 

Napoleon's retreat had now begun in earnest. There 


was to be no more manceuvring, but merely an efiort to 
save the army. 

Napoleon, having determined to march to Kaluga 
from Moscow, had two courses open to him. He might 
have attacked the Russians in their fortified 
position at Tarutino, and so cleared the way. 
Undoubtedly he chose the right course in retreating, 
rather than fight a doubtful battle. But when his plan 
had almost succeeded his irresolution led to failure. He 
still had it in his power to avoid a conflict and march by 
Medjm. But in the result we find him retreating by a 
route which he had better, as circumstances turned out, 
have taken in the first instance, thus saving time and, 
what was almost as important, the consumption of 
provisions. But it is not clear why he did not march on 
Medyn and Yelnya instead of taking his army by the 
exhausted and longer route through Mozhaisk. His 
troops were perhaps too scattered to follow the Russians 
immediately on the 26th. But he wasted the whole of 
the 25th when he might have been collecting his forces. 

Kutuzov showed the usual tactics of the Russian in 
retiring unnecessarily from a strong position. He had 
advanced with timidity ; he retreated with precipitation 
and in such confusion that Sir Robert Wilson, the British 
general attached to the Russian army, declared that the 
retreat resembled a rout. 



The March to Vyazma — Russian Movements — Napoleon at 
Vyazma — ^News from the Wings — Napoleon's Measures — 
Retreat continued — Kutuzov's Pursuit — Battle of Vyazma 
— Difficulties of the March — Kutuzov's Plans — Retreat to 
Smolensk — Ney's Rearguard — The Passage of the Vop — 
Russian Operations 

Napoleon reached Yereya on the 27tli October. There 
he found Poniatovski, who had arrived on the 23rd, and 
The March Mortier, who had marched from Moscow 
to Vyazma after blowing up the Kremlin, happily some- 
what ineffectually. Mozhaisk was passed next day, and 
the battlefield of Borodino on the 29th. The field of 
battle still presented a frightful scene, strewn with corpses, 
fragments of uniform, arms, helmets and broken drums. 
Farther on was the Kolotzki monastery, turned into a 
hospital, where there were some 500 wounded, most of 
whom were taken on on carriages with the army, the 
Emperor even giving up his own vehicles for this purpose. 
Information had been given by a captured Russian 
officer that Kutuzov was marching direct on Smolensk, 
and the fact that the rearguard was followed only by 
Cossacks appeared to confirm this statement. Napoleon 

M 177 


accordingly hurried on his march, fearing that the 
Russians would reach Vyazma or Smolensk by a shorter 

Winter was now approaching, and although the nights 
were cold, the weather was fine and favourable. No snow 
had as yet fallen. Napoleon reached Vyazma on the 
31st October, travelling in his carriage. On this day the 
French troops were disposed as follows : — the Old Guard 
and Murat's cavalry eight versts beyond Vyazma ; 
Mortier and Junot — approaching Vyazma ; the Viceroy 
and Poniatovski near Gzhatsk ; Davout at Gridnevo, 
forming the rearguard, with orders to burn all villages 
and buildings as he passed. 

During the march the cold gradually increased, and 
there were several degrees of frost at night. The de- 
moralisation of the troops continued ; the sick were 
constantly augmented ; men cast off the burthen of their 
arms, and at every step were to be seen infantry soldiers 
without weapons and troopers without horses. Parties 
wandered off the road to seek for food and numbers found 
death. Discipline declined ; famine conquered feelings 
of honour and subordination ; soldiers no longer obeyed 
nor even respected their officers. Between Mozhaisk 
and Gzhatsk 400 out of 5700 Westphalians left the ranks. 
The baggage trains of various corps became mixed, and 
were plundered ; and bloody strife took place between 
French soldiers and their allies. 


Meanwhile Kutuzov was at first unaware of the French 
line of retreat ; he thought they had taken the road from 
Russian Maloyaroslavetz to Medyn. It was not until 
Movements ^-^q 27th that the Russian army marched, 
when they followed the Medyn road to Polotnyanye 
Zavodi. The advanced guard under Miloradovich was 
directed on Nikolskoye, while Platov with his cavalry 
and Cossacks followed the main Smolensk road. Thus on 
the 1st November, when Napoleon's army was echeloned 
for a distance of ninety versts between Vyazma and 
Gridnevo, the Russians were following on their flanks and 
rear. Kutuzov's main forces were moving from Medyn 
to cut the French line of retreat at Vyazma ; the ad- 
vanced or now more properly flank guard of Miloradovich 
was in the interval between the main forces and the great 
Smolensk road, in the direction of Gzhatsk ; Denisov's 
Cossacks were ahead of the advanced guard. Platov was 
following in the enemy's rear ; and other Cossack detach- 
ments were making raids on the French flanks. A 
detachment under Count Ozharovski was directed on 
Yelnya and Smolensk to destroy the enemy's detach- 
ments and magazines. The corps which had been 
employed under Winzingerode, north of Moscow, now 
under General P. A. Kutuzov, was directed from Moscow 
on Gzhatsk, moving north of the Moskva River, to harass 
the right flank of the retreating army. 

Napoleon halted on the 1st November at Vyazma, 


remaining until midday of tlie 2nd. Here he received 
news from St Cyr of his evacuation of Polotzk ; from 
Napoleon at Victor of his movement from Smolensk to 
Vyazma ^j^^ Dwina ; and from the Duke of Bassano 
(Maret) from Vilna reporting the retirement of Schwarzen- 
berg before Chichagov. From these reports he gathered 
that the Kussians intended to cut his line of communi- 

Wittgenstein had resumed the offensive and marched 
against St Cyr, who was in position before Polotzk, on 
News from ^^^ ^S"*^^ October. The Russian general 
the Wmgs attacked on the 18th, driving the French 
into the town, and as Steinheil was advancing 
along the left bank of the Dwina from Disna, St Cyr 
evacuated Polotzk and withdrew across the Dwina, at 
the same time defeating Steinheil's advanced guard, and 
forcing that general to retreat to Disna. Wittgenstein 
then crossed the Dwina, and St Cyr retired on Chashniki, 
on the River Ula, where Victor effected a junction with 
him on the 29th October. Thus Smolensk, where Victor 
was to have formed a general reserve, and from whence 
he was to have advanced to meet the Grand Army or to 
support St Cyr or Schwarzenberg as occasion arose, was 
left with only a garrison. 

In the meantime, in the south-western theatre of opera- 
tions Schwarzenberg had retreated before Chichagov's 
advance, and crossed the Bug at Drogichin, thus exposing 


tlie Frencli line of retreat towards the Berezina. 
Chichagov remained near Brest-Litovsk until tlie 30th 
October, when he advanced towards Slonim, from whence, 
as will be seen, his march was continued to the Berezina. 
Napoleon still hoped that he would be able to avoid 
the enemies closing in on every side. Victor and St Cyr 
Napoleon's should hold Wittgenstein in check, and 
Measures Chichagov, marching by difficult roads 
through the Lithuanian forests, should be detained 
by Schwarzenberg's pursuit. Charpentier, governor of 
Smolensk, was directed to inform Victor that the Grand 
Army would be at Dorogobuzh on the 3rd November, 
and that the Emperor expected to receive there all in- 
formation regarding the movements of the wings, and of 
the supplies and artillery available in Smolensk. He was 
to write to the Commandant at Vitebsk and the governor 
of Mohilev to prepare as much flour as possible for the 
army, and to inform them " that the movement of the 
army is voluntary, that it is a manoeuvre to approach a 
hundred leagues nearer to the armies forming the wings ; 
that, since leaving the environs of Moscow, we have no 
news of the enemy, with the exception of some Cossacks." 
Baraguay d'Hilliers, who was advancing from Smolensk 
by the Kaluga road to meet the Grand Army was directed 
to conform to the new movement. And Victor was in- 
formed that the object of the march was to bring the 
troops operating on the flanks into closer touch with the 


Grand Army ; and that in all probability the main forces, 
taking up a position between the Dwina and the Dnieper, 
would obtain touch, with the corps under his command. 

The French army, weakened by hunger, moved almost 
without a halt, with the exception of the troops that had 
Retreat reached Vyazma. Davout passed through 
continued Grzhatsk on the 1st November, and continued 
his march to get through the defile of Tzarevo-Zaimish- 
chiye, harassed on the way by the Cossacks, and abandon- 
ing guns and waggons. He was followed immediately 
by Paskevich's division ; and to the left of the main 
road marched the advanced guard of Miloradovich. 

Miloradovich could not hope to cut off the whole 
French army from its advanced guard ; there would be 
38,000 men to oppose his and Platov's 25,000. But 
he intended to intercept the rearguard at Tzarevo- 
Zaimishchiye ; his advanced troops came into touch 
with the French on the 1st November, but arrived too 
late to cut them off, as they passed through by night. 
On the 2nd the French army was situated as follows : — 
the Westphalians beyond Semlevo ; Napoleon's head- 
quarters and the Guard, with part of the reserve cavalry 
at Semlevo ; Ney, who had orders to allow all the other 
troops to pass to form the new rearguard, at Vyazma ; 
the Viceroy and Poniatovski, having passed some six 
versts beyond Fyoderovskoye, had halted to support 
Davout, who was close to that place. For want of cavalry 


the French, were unable to obtain any information of the 
Kussian movements. 

Kutuzov reached Dubrova that day, preceded by an 
advanced guard under Raevski. Count Orlov-Denisov, 
Kutuzov's "^^^^ ^ flying column, made a raid on Vyazma 
Pursuit ^^^ seized a gun and some prisoners. Platov, 
together with Paskevich's division, halted between 
Tzarevo-Zaimishchiye and Fyoderovskoye. Milorado- 
vich, moving between Kutuzov and Platov, stopped at 
Spasskoye, a short march from Vyazma, on the night of 
the 2nd November. Next day Miloradovich and Platov 
arranged to attack the enemy ; they were supported 
by two divisions of cuirassiers under Uvarov, while the 
main Russian army moved to Bikova, ten versts from 

Miloradovich began the attack on Davout with his 
cavalry on the morning of the 3rd November, when Ney 
Battle of ^^^ j^st south of Vyazma ; the Viceroy 
Vyazma Eugene and Poniatovski were nearing that 
place, and Davout, followed by Platov's Cossacks, was 
approaching Fyoderovskoye. But Davout, although 
weak in guns and cavalry, and sufiering heavy loss, beat 
ofi his assailants and continued his retreat. At ten 
o'clock the Russian infantry came up, and attacked the 
French flank ; Eugene had halted, and turned to assist 
Davout, while Ney was engaged south of Vyazma, and 
was later able to send back assistance. The Russian 


attack was badly conducted, and although they inflicted 
heavy loss on their worn-out enemies, they suffered 
severely themselves. This running fight continued until 
evening, when, Davout's and Eugene's troops having 
passed through, Ney formed the rearguard and evacuated 
Vyazma, leaving the place in flames. 

While both sides claimed the victory at Vyazma, the 
advantage remained with the French, who attained their 
object. Those terrible soldiers showed that their spirit 
and their martial qualities still held out, notwithstanding 
the privations they had undergone and the enemies who 
assailed them on every side. The result proved the 
soundness of Napoleon's dispositions in arranging for the 
relief of the rearguard at Vyazma. The French would 
probably have gained a considerable success had there 
been one officer in command to co-ordinate the disposi- 
tion of the troops. But what is to be thought of the 
Russian Commander-in-Chief who, almost within the 
sound of the guns at Vyazma, where the invaders stood at 
bay, remained in inaction at Bikova ? It may be said 
that he knew the climate and the vicissitudes of the 
march would do the work without the expenditure of 
more troops, and that he left " a golden bridge " for his 
enemies. But the theory of the "golden bridge," so 
frequently and erroneously advanced, betrays a counsel 
of timidity, and Kutuzov here lost the opportunity of 
annihilating a great part of the Grand Army. 


Next day, when he arrived at Slavkovo, Napoleon 
heard of the action of Vyazma, which led him to halt until 
Difficulties ^^® ^^^- He even had an idea of forming 
of the March g^j^ ambush between Slavkovo and Dorogo- 
buzh, to fall on the pursuers with all his troops, but 
this was soon abandoned. It had been getting colder, 
and the first snow fell on the 4th, adding to the miseries 
and the disorganisation of the army. 

On the 5th headquarters and the Old Guard reached 
Dorogobuzh ; the Westphalians, the Young Guard and 
the remains of the 2nd and 4th Cavalry Corps, passing 
through the town, were posted on the road to Smolensk ; 
Poniatovski, the Viceroy and Davout between Slavkovo 
and Dorogobuzh ; and Ney with the rearguard 
approached Slavkovo. Snow continued to fall, and 
frost increased. A large portion of the cavalry was lost 
and many carts and some guns were abandoned. When 
a horse fell, it was seized, cut to pieces and devoured. 

Having no food and no proper clothing and boots, the 
French sufiered terribly from cold, and marched with 
difficulty. There was an enormous number of stragglers, 
mostly unarmed. Ney wrote to Berthier on the 4th that 
" the roads were without exaggeration crowded by 4000 
men of various regiments, who could not be induced to 
march together." 

Physical suffering produced decline in moral ; discipline 
vanished ; everything gave way to the instinct of self- 


preservation. At niglit the sick and wounded wandered 
about the bivouacs, trying to secure a place at the fires. 
The mornings revealed the camping sites strewn with 
corpses, like fields of battle. The Russian bivouacs were 
constantly surrounded by crowds of unarmed French, to 
whom their enemies showed hospitality. They did not 
trouble to make these unfortunates prisoners, and many 
were slaughtered by the infuriated peasants. The sur- 
vivors looked to Smolensk as towards a promised land. 
There they hoped to find everything they required, and 
to go into winter quarters. 

Meanwhile Kutuzov continued his march by the parallel 
road to Yelnya ; Miloradovich and Platov pm*sued the 
Kutuzov's enemy from the rear and left flank. In order 
Plans -J3Q Q^-^ j^]^Q j'rench ofi from the south, the 

Governors of Kaluga, Tula and other provinces were 
directed to send the militia levies to Roslavl, Mstislavl, 
Yelnya and other places. General Ertel was ordered 
with his detachment from Mozyr on Bobruisk. It was 
proposed to Chichagov to leave a corps of observation 
to watch Schwarzenberg, and to march to Minsk and 
Borisov ; and to Wittgenstein to approach the Dnieper, 
leaving Steinheil to follow St Cyr, or to try and prevent 
the latter from joining Napoleon, should he make the 

On the 6th November Napoleon's headquarters reached 
Mikhalevka, where he heard that Victor had fought an 


action at Chashniki on the 2nd November, and had 
retreated to Syenno. At length the Emperor informed 
Retreat to Victor of the perilous situation of the Grand 
Smolensk ^rniy, directed him to assume the ofiensive, 
attack the enemy, drive him across the Dwina,and occupy 
Polotzk ; "on this depends the safety of the army," 
wrote Berthier. Here also Napoleon heard of the con- 
spiracy of General Malet in Paris, a disturbing factor in 
the situation. He crossed the Dnieper on the 7th, and 
stopped near Solovyova. The army continued its retreat 
in the same order ; but the Viceroy Eugene left the main 
road at Dorogobuzh, to march to Vitebsk by way of 
Dukhovshchina in order to open communications with 
the forces operating on the Dwina. The same day 
Baraguay d'Hilliers marched from Yelnya for Smolensk. 

Napoleon entered Smolensk on the 9th November. 
There were 12 degrees (Reaumur) of frost, and an icy 
wind was blowing ; the last march was accomplished on 

The weary march of the army continued. The road 
was strewn with dead men and horses, and the troops 
subsisted chiefly on the flesh of horses and dogs. The 
Cossacks continued to harass them on the march, although 
they did little but cut ofi stragglers. Between the 9th 
and 13th the army poured into Smolensk ; but they were 
disappointed in their hopes of plenty. The magazines 
were besieged by crowds of famished men, unarmed, in 


rags and scarcely human in appearance, wlio seized what- 
ever provisions they could lay hands on. On the night 
of the 9th the soldiers slaughtered two hundred horses 
for food, as there were no supplies of meat. Napoleon 
ordered the Guard to be furnished with supplies for four- 
teen days and the remainder of the army for six days. 

During the retreat from Vyazma, Ney fought heroically 
with his rearguard. At Dorogobuzh he made a stand 
Ney's ^^^ drove back Miloradovich, who was in 

Rearguard close pursuit, and set fire to the town before 
leaving it, but the snow prevented the flames from 
spreading, and the Kussians halted there for the night. 

Ney pressed on through a blinding snowstorm, and 
reached Smolensk on the evening of the 13th. From 
Dorogobuzh the pursuit relaxed, for Miloradovich turned 
off to the south-west to join the main army, and only 
light detachments followed the retreat. But still the 
rearguard had to fight in order to gain time at Smolensk, 
and when his disheartened soldiers threw down their 
arms Ney seized a musket and, himself setting the 
example, inspired them to renewed exertions. 

It has already been related how the Viceroy Eugene 
had taken the road from Dorogobuzh to Vitebsk by way 
of Dukhovshchina. Napoleon had sent General Sanson 
with a party of oflfiLcers and a small escort to survey the 
road and especially the River Vop. But this party was 
captured by the advanced guard of General P. A. Kutuzov, 


which had marched by a parallel route north of the main 

road and had reached Dukhovshchina. 

Prince Eugene advanced from Dorogobuzh and crossed 

the Dnieper on the 7th November ; the passage was 

_,. difficult, and from twelve to sixteen horses 

The ' 

Passage of had to be employed to drag each gun up the 
bank. As the march continued, men and 
horses died of hunger and cold, baggage was abandoned, 
and the corps was becoming disorganised when the bank 
of the Vop was reached on the 9th. Here a bridge, con- 
structed the day before, was swept away by a flood, and 
the troops had to ford the river breast-high. The greater 
part of the artillery and baggage had to be abandoned, 
and, to make matters worse, Platov's Cossacks, who had 
followed from Dorogobuzh, attacked the rear. But 
Broussier's division, forming the rearguard, kept the 
Cossacks at bay, and covered the remainder of the force, 
which efiected the passage by nightfall. The night was 
passed in open bivouac in the snow. Broussier's division 
crossed at dawn, leaving behind sixty-four guns, and the 
greater part of the baggage. There remained under 
arms not more than 6000 men. The march was continued 
to Dukhovshchina, followed by Platov, while from the 
town issued Ilovaiski's advanced guard of P. A. Kutuzov's 
detachment. Attacked in front and rear, the valiant 
renmant of the Viceroy's troops held their own, drove 
Ilovaiski from Dukhovshchina, and took possession of the 


town, wliich liad been abandoned by its inhabitants. 
Here shelter and some food were found. Still pursued by 
Cossacks who cut off stragglers, but generally kept at a 
distance, the Viceroy entered Smolensk with the remains 
of his corps on the 13th November. 

During this period Kutuzov had continued his march 
from Bikovo by Byeli-Kholm to Yelnya, where he 
Russian arrived on the 8th November, and halted on 
Operations ^]^q g^]^^ ^ flying column under Ozharovski, 
moving ahead of the army, passed Baltutino on the 8th, 
while Davidov's partisans were between Alexyeievo and 
the Yelnya road. These Cossacks, in conjunction with 
a detachment under Count Orlov-Denisov, next day 
attacked and eventually surrounded a brigade under 
General Augereau, forming Baraguay d'Hilliers' ad- 
vanced guard, posted between Lyakhovo and Yazvino. 
After an obstinate resistance, in which many were killed 
and wounded, Augereau was obliged to surrender with 
over 1700 officers and men. 

Kutuzov, meanwhile, had passed through Yelnya and 
reached Labkovo, on the Eoslavl road on the 11th. 
On the 13th he crossed over to Shchelkanovo on the Mstis- 
lavl road. Miloradovich proceeded towards Chervonnoye 
with the advanced guard, where Orlov-Denisov, who was 
ahead, drove out a detachment of Poles. Ozharovski 
moved his detachment direct on Krasnoi ; and P. A. 
Kutuzov marched to Dukhovshchina. Chichagov, having 


left a detachment of 25,000 men near Brest Litovsk 
to watch Schwarzenberg, was approaching Minsk. But 
Schwarzenberg recrossed the Bug, and marched towards 
Volkovisk, followed by Sacken, who commanded the 
Russian detachment. Schwarzenberg was not, however, 
in a position to co-operate with the Grand Army. He 
was based on Warsaw instead of, as he should have been, 
on Minsk. Wittgenstein was at Chashniki, where Victor, 
who was at Chereya, threatened him with a further 

Having assembled his forces at Smolensk, Napoleon 
decided to continue his retreat. Smolensk was untenable. 
His retreat on Orsha was threatened by Kutuzov, and 
Chichagov would soon be on the Berezina, while Wittgen- 
stein menaced his other flank. Thus the only chance of 
escape was to lose no time in marching. Nor, as the 
supplies collected at Smolensk were exhausted, was there 
any object in staying at that place. 



Retreat from Smolensk — Arrival at Krasnoi — Napoleon's Re- 
solution — Battle of Krasnoi — Ney's Rearguard — From 
Krasnoi to Borisov — Action at Borisov — Chichagov's Move- 
ments — Disposition of Opposing Forces 

Napoleon left Smolensk with tlie Guards by the Krasnoi 

road on the 14th November. Junot and the remnant of 

„ , Poniatovski's corps had marched on the 

Retreat ^ 

from 12th, Eugene was to start next day, and 

Davout and Ney, whose corps still formed 
the rearguard, on the 15th. 

The army was reduced to some 50,000 men, calculated 
as follows : — 

Guard: infantry, 14,000; cavalry, 2000. 

1st Infantry Corps, 10,000 — Davout. 

3rd Infantry Corps, 6000— Ney. 

4th Infantry Corps, 5000 — Prince Eugene. 

5th Infantry Corps, 800 — Poniatovski. 

8th Infantry Corps, 700 — Junot. 

Dismounted Cavalry, 500. 

Cavalry, 3000. 

Engineers and Artillery, 7000. 



It is difficult to understand why Napoleon marched 
with his columns separated by such long intervals. Pro- 
bably the want of good maps and of a knowledge of the 
roads prevented him from adopting a formation of parallel 
columns. He might, moreover, have marched along the 
north bank of the Dnieper to Orsha, thus having the 
river to protect his left flank. 

The leading French column reached Krasnoi on the 
14th, driving back Ozharovski's detachment, which had 
Arrival at expelled the French garrison. The Emperor's 
Krasnoi headquarters with the guard remained that 
night at Koritnya. 

On the Russian side, Kutuzov was at Volkovo, a 
detachment under Miloradovich at Knyaginino, and a 
detachment under Osterman attacked a French force 
(not specified but said to be Poles) near Kobizevo and 
took 6000 prisoners. This day there were 40 degrees 
of frost. 

On the 15th the leading column passed Krasnoi and 
reached Liadi, while Napoleon caught up the West- 
phalians and entered Krasnoi with them. Miloradovich 
and Osterman reached the vicinity of the highroad near 
Rzhavka while Napoleon and the Guards were passing, 
but did no more than open a cannonade ; some of the 
balls falling near the Emperor caused him to remark with 
indifierence : " Bah ! the bullets and shot have been 
flying about our legs these twenty years ! " 



Here, as ever, lie displayed tliat cool disregard of 
personal danger wiiicli was one of his chief and most 
valuable characteristics. His courage was no less evident 
at Krasnoi than on the bridge of Areola in 1797. On 
arrival at Krasnoi in the evening Napoleon heard of the 
presence of Ozharovski's detachment of six regiments 
with six guns at Kutkovo, and had them driven out with 
heavy loss by a night attack by a division of the Young 

Hearing from prisoners that Kutuzov with the main 
Russian army was a short march distant from Krasnoi, 
Napoleon's ^^® Emperor resolved to await the arrival 
Resolution from Smolensk of the other columns, in order 
to save them from being cut off. It was a great resolu- 
tion, worthy of a great commander, to take such a risk 
in the immediate presence of an army 80,000 strong, 
with other armies of equal strength hurrying up on either 
flank to cut him of!. He could have marched on to 
Orsha, leaving two -thirds of his army to almost certain 

On the 16th November Eugene was waylaid on the road 
to Krasnoi by Miloradovich, who stood at Merlino. 
Rejecting a summons to surrender, the Viceroy fought 
his way bravely through these superior forces, and reached 
Krasnoi with the remains of his corps, amounting to 3000 

The situation of the Emperor now appeared sufficiently 


desperate. Kutuzov was close by at Novoselki, and his 
advanced guard blocked the road by which Davout and 
Ney were approaching from Smolensk. An attack by the 
main Kussian army, if carried through with vigour and 
resolution, must have a decisive efiect. But Napoleon 
knew his enemy, and decided to take the ofiensive himself 
and clear the road for Davout. He accordingly made the 
following dispositions : — Mortier, with two divisions of 
the Young Guard, was to move out along the Smolensk 
road, followed by the Old Guard and thirty guns ; the 
Guard Cavalry and Latour-Maubourg were to form the 
reserve ; Claparede's division would hold Krasnoi. 
Eugene was to continue his march towards Orsha. 
Davout, having sent information as to the situation to 
Ney, set out from near Koritnya at three o'clock in the 
morning on the 17th November, with 7500 men and 
fifteen guns. At nine o'clock he was attacked by Milora- 
dovich opposite Larionova, where the Russians had 
passed the night. But Miloradovich received orders 
from Kutuzov not to oppose Davout's march, but to 
content himself with attacking his rear, and the marshal 
reached Krasnoi with some loss. Meanwhile Napoleon 
Battle of -^^^ moved out at dawn and attacked the 
Krasnoi head of the Russian column at Uvarova, 
which enabled him to join hands with Davout, and no 
doubt relieved the pressure upon that officer. We have 
a fine picture of the Emperor ; calm in the hour of danger, 


" lie stood on the frozen road, in his Polish cap of marten 
fur, and green velvet-lined fur coat with gold braid, lean- 
ing on a stick cut from a birch-tree," holding at bay 
80,000 Russians more by the terror of his presence than 
by force of the feeble remains of the Grand Army that 
still held together under his command. 

Kutuzov now extended his left, and ordered the 
greater part of his troops to turn Krasnoi by way 
of Sorokino on Dobroye. Napoleon, informed of this 
movement, decided to retreat, although this obliged 
him to abandon Ney with the rearguard. Kutuzov, 
becoming aware that the Emperor was present in 
person, stopped his movement, and the French retreated 
to Liadi. 

Napoleon has been blamed for thus abandoning Ney, 
a course that has been falsely attributed to his desire for 
personal safety. But what useful purpose would have 
been served by his finding there, like the Emperor Julian, 
a glorious death ? To remain in Krasnoi would have 
been the end of all things. Not only Ney's advanced 
guard, but the whole army must have been destroyed. 

Ney left Smolensk at two a.m. on the 17th, with 6000 
men and twelve guns ; arriving near Krasnoi next 
Ney's afternoon, he found the road blocked by the 

Rearguard ^j^qJ^ Russian army. A lesser man would 
have surrendered. But this brave warrior had not come 
to the end either of his courage or resources. To a 


summons to lay down Ms arms, lie replied : "A marshal 
of France does not surrender ! " 

His troops even captured some of the enemy's guns, 
although, these were retaken. But it was impossible to 
make headway against the numbers which assailed him. 
The brave marshal now undertook one of the most 
wonderful marches recorded in history. With his forces 
greatly reduced he turned towards the Dnieper. Guided 
by an inaccurate map in an unknown country, he struck 
north to Sirokokoreniye, following a rivulet which he 
knew must flow into the river. He decided to pass the 
Dnieper and march along the right bank to Orsha. The 
pursuit had fortunately relaxed, the snow covered up his 
tracks, and a thaw followed on the frost. His only fear 
was that the melting of the ice would preclude the 
possibility of passage. The remnant of the rearguard 
came to the river near Gusinoye. A place was found 
where the ice would bear, and the soldiers crossed, 
abandoning guns and carts. Arrived on the far bank 
they turned towards Orsha, following a track scarcely 
discernible in the forest. And now a new danger pre- 
sented itself . Plato v' s Cossacks had come from Smolensk 
and were taking the same route. They harassed the 
rearguard whenever they emerged into the open. Ney 
formed his men into a square, and marched on. The 
Cossacks opened fire with artillery, and Platov, thinking 
to complete the destruction of the enemy, directed his 


men to charge with, the lance. But, inspired by their 
brave leader, the French kept their ranks, and fought 
their way to Yakubovo, where food and shelter were 
found on the night of the 19th. In the early morning of 
the 20th a Polish officer was sent to Orsha with news of 
the desperate situation of the rearguard. Napoleon had 
already left, thinking Ney lost, but Davout and the 
Viceroy Eugene were in the town. The latter at once 
marched out to Ney's assistance, met him on the road, 
and conducted him in safety to Orsha. Well might 
Napoleon exclaim when hearing that evening of his 
safety: "He is the bravest of the brave." His rear- 
guard was reduced to 900 men. 

The events round Krasnoi reduced the strength of the 
Grand Army by some 25,000 men. But that any had 
escaped is remarkable, and to be ascribed, apart from the 
bold measures of the Emperor, to the timidity and in- 
action of the Russian Commander-in-Chief. But it has 
been recorded that Kutuzov said to Sir Robert Wilson, 
who was in his camp : " I do not consider that the de- 
struction of Napoleon's power would be advantageous to 
Europe ; it would lead to the supremacy of England 
instead of the supremacy of France." That aspect of 
the question, however, had nothing to do with the 
duties of the general commanding in the field. 

After evacuating Krasnoi, Napoleon passed the night at 
Liadi, and took the road to Orsha before dawn on the 


loth November. There was a thaw after the hard frost, 

making the road very heavy, and Napoleon left his carriage 

_ and marched on foot to encourage the troops. 

From ^ ^ 

Krasnoi He reached Dubrovna in the afternoon, and 
established himself there in the house of 
the Princess Liubomirskaya. Davout with his corps 
and Mortier with the Young Guard formed the rearguard. 
Zaionchek, who had succeeded to Poniatovski's command, 
owing to the latter' s illness, and Junot reached Orsha 
this day, the Viceroy Eugene being between Dubrovna 
and Orsha. There was less difficulty about supplies, as 
the inhabitants of the Mohilev Government had not left 
their villages. The army was now reduced to 25,000 
men, with little cavalry or artillery. 

In Dubrovna the Emperor received news of the Eussian 
occupation of Vitebsk, of an unsuccessful action fought by 
Victor at Chashniki on the 14th November, and of the 
occupation of Minsk by Chichagov on the 16th. He sent 
orders to Dombrovski ^ to collect his troops at Borisov 
and defend the bridge-head at that town ; to Bronikovski, 
governor of Minsk, to join Dombrovski and headquarters 
at Borisov ; to Oudinot to march immediately to Borisov, 
collect the troops there, and together with his corps move 
on Minsk as the advanced guard of the army ; intending 
to gain possession of that town and establish himself 
behind the Berezina. Victor was directed to protect 

^ Dombrovski had been with his division at Bobruisk. 


Borisov, Vilna and Orsha, so tliat when the army was 
established at Minsk he could move to the Upper Berezina, 
cover the Vilna road and join St Cyr, then retiring on 
Lithuania. Next day Napoleon reached Orsha and took 
up his quarters in the Jesuit monastery. Orders were 
sent to Victor to be prepared to be at Borisov on the 
25th or 26th to form the rearguard of the army. 

At Orsha Napoleon reorganised the remains of his 
army, finding there some small arms, thirty-six guns, and 
other supplies. 

Still in the hope of forestalling Chichagov on the 
Berezina, the march was continued next day to Kokhanov 
and on the 22nd to Tolochin. The previous day 
GOiichagov had forced Dombrovski out of Borisov, and 
occupied that place with his 34,000 men, the Pole falling 
back to Bobr, which was reached the same day by 
Oudinot with 8000 men. Victor was at Ghereya with 

On the Russian side — ^Kutuzov, after detaching a 
strong force under Yermolov in pursuit of Napoleon, was 
at Lanniki on the 21st, awaiting the crossing of the 
Dnieper by his advanced guard under Miloradovich at 
Kopis. Wittgenstein was at Chashniki with 30,000 men ; 
Sacken, with 25,000 had retreated to Shereshovo before 
Schwarzenberg, who had advanced to Radetzko with 
35,000 men. P. A. Kutuzov had reached Babinovichy. 

Rain fell for some days from the 20th, making the 


marching still more difficult. At Tolochin Napoleon 
heard of the capture of Borisov by Chichagov, and 
realised that the only course now remaining was to force 
the passage of the Berezina in the face of a Russian army. 
The possibility of taking a direct route north of Borisov 
on Molodechno, crossing the Berezina where fordable, 
proposed by Jomini, was rejected on account of the 
strong position of Wittgenstein at Chashniki ; while other 
Russian forces, moving by shorter routes, might forestall 
him at Vilna. 

Napoleon's initial plans for the passage of the Berezina 
were as follows : — Oudinot was to occupy the ford at 
Veselovo, construct bridges there, and cover them by 
fortifications ; Victor — to hold the Lepel road in order 
to cover Oudinot from Wittgenstein. At four-thirty in 
the morning of the 24th orders were given to the chief of 
pioneers. General Eble, and of engineers. General Chasse- 
loup, to join Oudinot at Borisov, and proceed with the 
construction of the bridges over the Berezina. Pontoons, 
sappers and miners were ordered to Borisov. The order 
was given for half the carts and waggons to be burnt. 

Meanwhile Oudinot met with and defeated Chichagov's 
advanced guard at Loshnitzi, and on the French advance 
Action at being continued the Russian commander 
Borisov withdrew to the other bank of the river, 
occupied the bridge-head and destroyed the bridge at 
Borisov. Oudinot occupied the town and reconnoitred 


the river for a point of passage on tlie 24tli. This was 
found at Studyanka; a feint was to be made at Mali 
Stakhov. In driving the Russians out of Borisov, 
Oudinot took a great part of their baggage and killed 
or captured a thousand men, exclusive of the sick and 
wounded who were all abandoned in the town. 

While these events were taking place, Wittgenstein 
was pursuing Victor on his retreat from Chereya. The 
French marshal retired fighting on Bobr, where he arrived 
on the 24th, thus leaving open to Wittgenstein the direct 
route to Studyanka. Victor reached Loshnitza on the 
25th, the day on which Napoleon had assembled all his 
other forces at Borisov. 

Chichagov, posted at the bridge-head opposite Borisov, 
was misled by movements of French parties to believe 
Chichagov's ^^^^ ^^® passage of the Berezina was to be 
Movements attempted below that place. Accordingly, 
leaving a part of his force at the bridge-head, he marched 
down the river to Shabashevichy, on the 25th, the day 
on which Oudinot moved up to Studyanka. Chichagov 
had posted a detachment under Ghaplitz at Brili, opposite 
Studyanka, but that officer received orders to withdraw 
to the bridge-head, which he did, although he observed 
and had information of the preparations on the opposite 
bank of the river. He, however, left some Cossack posts 
along the bank. On this day also Napoleon entered 
Borisov, riding part of the way, but at times being 


forced by the cold, as frost had again set in, to proceed 

on foot. 

Thus on the evening of the 25th November, when 

Oudinot set out for Studyanka, Napoleon's main strength 

_. . . was partly at Borisov, where was the Guard 
Disposition ^ -^ 

of Opposing and Junot and Ney, to whose corps had been 
added the remains of Dombrovski's detach- 
ment, Poniatovski's corps and the Mohilev garrison ; 
part on the march near Loshnitza ; Victor's corps north 
of the main road, at Katulichy, to cover the army from 
Wittgenstein. On the Russian side — Chichagov was 
between Borisov and Shabashevichy, with a detachment 
at Usha under O'Rorke, who had sent his cavalry to 
Nizhnoye Berezino ; Wittgenstein was at Baran, his 
advanced guard under Albrecht at Yanchina, en route 
to Borisov. Platov, following the French rear, was at 
Nachi ; Ermolov was at Malyavka ; Miloradovich was at 
Tolochin ; Ozharovski had seized the French magazines 
at Mohilev; Kutuzov, with his main army, stood at Kopis. 
The situation which Napoleon had to face was suffi- 
ciently appalling to daunt the stoutest heart. Pressed in 
rear and on both flanks, he found himself arrested in front 
by a river difficult to pass and defended by an entire army. 
With soldiers half -dead with cold and hunger he had to 
overcome obstacles which might have arrested the best 
organised army. A thaw had melted the ice of the 
Berezina, and the river which would have been passable 


a few days before was now pouring in an ice-laden flood 
between its banks. Now it was necessary to construct 
bridges, a difficult work in sucli a stream. The forces 
brought from Moscow did not exceed 20,000 men ; the 
corps of Victor and Oudinot amounted to as many. 
These were encumbered by some 50,000 unarmed men and 
followers. To these were opposed Chichagov's 30,000 ; 
on the right Wittgenstein and Steinheil's 25,000 ; and 
Kutuzov's 80,000 were approaching from the left and 



The Point of Passage — Construction of Bridges — 26th November 
— 27th November — Capture of a French Division — Passage 
continued — Battle of the Berezina — Repulse of Russians on 
both Banks — Comments — Napoleon on the Berezina 

Napoleon left Borisov on the 25tli November and 
established bis headquarters at Stari Borisov, from 
whence he rode over to Studyanka at dawn next day. 
The village of Studyanka stands on the slope of the left 
bank of the Berezina, a hundred and fifty paces from the 
The Point river. The heights on that side dominate 
of Passage f]^Q rigj^t bank, where marshes, frozen since 
the 24th, favoured the movement of troops under cover 
of batteries established at Studyanka. The crest of the 
high ground extending along the left bank of the Berezina 
covers the road leading from the town of Borisov, in 
front of Stari Borisov, and farther through the village of 
Bitchi to Studyanka. On the right bank of the river runs 
the main country road leading from Bobruisk, in front of 
the Borisov bridge-head, and farther to Bolshoi Stakhov 
and the Stakhov forest ; after passing through the forest 
and leaving Brili on the right, the road turns almost at 


right angles at a distance of four versts from that village, 
and passes through great forests and difficult defiles 
formed by the River Gaina to Zembin and Molodechno, 
where it joins the main road to Vilna. 

When Napoleon arrived at Studyanka, the hard frost 
had frozen the broad marshes lying along the Berezina, 
but the river was not yet frozen, and was covered with 
large blocks of ice which rendered difficult the construc- 
tion of the bridges. At eight o'clock in the morning 
General Corbinot was sent across with a squadron, 
and when materials had been collected some rafts to 
carry ten men each were constructed and 400 of Dom- 
brovski's riflemen followed. At the same time all 
Oudinot's artillery, 40 guns, was posted on the heights 
at Studyanka. 

The detachment that had crossed over soon drove back 

into the forest the posts left by Chaplitz at Brili, and the 

^ construction of two bridges was begun, one 

Construe- . ^ ^ ' 

tion of about a hundred yards distant from the other, 

that on the right being intended for the 
passage of troops, and the one on the left for artillery 
and waggons. The wood for the bridges was taken from 
the houses in Studyanka, the iron parts were brought 
from Orsha by General Eble, who undertook the con- 
struction of the bridges. Great difficulties were met 
with. The river had risen until it was a hundred 
yards in width, and it was six feet deep in some places. 


Working under the eye of the Emperor, the brave 
sappers stood in water up to their shoulders, and con- 
structed the bridges as rapidly as possible, braving 
death, and losing half their number. The right-hand 
bridge was ready by eleven o'clock, when Oudinot and 
Dombrovski crossed with their troops, together with 
Dumerc's cuirassier division. These troops passed in 
front of the Emperor in perfect order, with shouts of 
Vive VEmpereur ! Two guns were also despatched to 
the other side. 

In the meantime Ghaplitz had returned towards Brili, 
but satisfied himself with the occupation of the edge of 
the forest ; he was driven back on Stakhov by Oudinot. 
French detachments were sent towards Zembin, where 
they occupied the bridges and viaducts across the marshes 
of the River Gaina, the Cossacks there retreating on 
Stakhov, thus opening the road to Vilna. 

The second bridge was ready at four in the afternoon ; 
some guns were taken across, but the bridge broke down 
and took some hours to repair. 

Meanwhile the debris of the army was approaching 
Study anka. Ney arrived when Oudinot had crossed the 
river, and Claparede followed ; the Guard was there ; 
Victor alone was far in rear ; leaving Ratulichi on the 
morning of the 26th, he relieved Davout at Loshchina 
with a rearguard under Partouneaux and Delaitre's 
brigade of cavalry, and entered Borisov in the night ; 


the remains of the corps of the Viceroy, Davout and 
Junot were approaching Borisov. 

During the 26th Chichagov had remained at Shabashe- 
vichy, and it was not until late in the day that one of his 
26th detachments discovered that Napoleon had 

November ^q^q ^q Studyanka and was there passing the 
river. This information was sent to Kutuzov at Kopis. 
Wittgenstein was now moving from Zhiskovo on Kostritza, 
and the same day Plato v approached Loshnitza, Yermolov 
reached Krupki, and Miloradovich was at Malyavka. 

During the night the bridge intended for wheeled 
vehicles broke down twice, becoming useless from eight 
o'clock until eleven o'clock, and from two o'clock until 
six in the morning of the 27th. This led to extensive 
crowding on the left bank of the Berezina. In order to 
maintain order as far as possible and hasten the crossing, 
Napoleon himself passed the night of the 26th in a hut 
near the brTdges ; when he rested, his place was taken by 
Murat, Berthier or Lauriston. Ney's troops and the 
Young Guard crossed during the night. Every effort 
was made to get the unarmed men and followers across, 
but most of these preferred to wander round Borisov in 
search of food. 

On the morning of the 27th Victor's corps came up, 
with the exception of Partouneaux's division left as rear- 
guard at Borisov. The arrival of Victor ensured the 
crossing being covered from Wittgenstein, so at one 


o'clock in the afternoon Napoleon sent the Old Guard 
over and rode across himself. The Baden brigade and 
27th ^^^ artillery of Daendels' division followed ; 

November ^j^^j^ ^j^^ remains of the corps of the Viceroy, 
Davout and Junot. Thus there remained at Studyanka 
only Girard's division and one of Daendels' brigades, 
Fournier's cavalry division and the reserve artillery of 
the 9th Corps ; Partouneaux's division and Delaitre's 
cavalry were holding Borisov. 

As the troops crossed to the other bank, they formed 
front in order of battle towards the Stakhov forest. 
But the Russians feared to attack, and throughout the 
day the opposing forces stood face to face within musket- 
shot. A reinforcement reached Chaplitz in the evening, 
but the Russians appeared to be paralysed by the presence 
of Napoleon. Had they attacked with vigour, they must 
have rendered the position of the French most desperate. 
The larger bridge broke down again at four o'clock, and 
was not repaired before six. The sick, the wounded and 
the stragglers crowded the entrance to the bridges, and 
together with horses and carts filled the whole space be- 
tween Studyanka and the bank of the river. Victor alone, 
with 6000 men, held the heights above on the left bank 
of the Berezina, while Partouneaux was still in Borisov, 
to draw off the attention of Wittgenstein and to hold back 
Ghichagov at the broken bridge, whither the latter had 
returned from Usha. 


Partouneaux repelled at Borisov an attempt by 

Chicliagov's troops to cross from the bridge-head. He 

^ ^ then started for Studyanka, but at three 

Capture of '^ 

a French o'clock in the afternoon of the 27th he was 

cut of! by Wittgenstein's advanced guard, 
which had reached Stari Borisov, his march being 
impeded by baggage carts and thousands of unarmed 
stragglers who crowded round his columns. Par- 
touneaux bravely attempted to cut his way through, but 
the odds were too great, and he was forced to retire to 
Borisov, where he was soon surrounded by the advancing 
Russians. Still this brave Frenchman would not sur- 
render. At night he broke out again, and attacked 
Wittgenstein's army, obtaining some success near Stari 
Borisov, but at length, surrounded on every side, he was 
forced to surrender. Next morning Delaitre, who had 
retreated again to Borisov with his cavalry, was also 
obliged to surrender. The captured included 5 general 
officers, 7000 men and 3 guns. One battalion, 120 strong, 
managed to escape along the bank of the Berezina and 
joined Victor. This was the only signal success obtained 
by the Russian arms during the entire campaign. 

Meanwhile Chichagov had thrown a pontoon bridge 
over the river at Borisov, and entered into communica- 
tion with Wittgenstein and Platov, who had arrived there. 
Chichagov informed Wittgenstein that he would attack 
the enemy next day, the 28th November, and asked for 


some reinforcements, as, lie said, " the enemy is in all 
probability four times as strong as the army of the 
Danube." Wittgenstein said he would co-operate on 
the left bank, and sent Platov and Yermolov across to 
support Chichagov. 

During the night of the 27th the French continued to 
pass artillery and baggage over the river. Some troops 
Passage weie sent on through Zembin, taking as much 
continued baggage and as many sick, wounded and un- 
armed men as possible, to join Wrede's corps at Vileika, 
guard the passage of the Vilia, and obtain supplies for the 
army. Napoleon, intending to preserve the bridges until 
the 29th, reinforced Victor, who disposed 8000 men and 
14 guns on the plateau behind the stream running into 
the Berezina immediately below Studyanka. These 
troops were skilfully posted, the infantry being mostly 
withdrawn behind the crest, which was occupied only 
by a line of sharpshooters ; the guns, on the left, corn- 
Battle of the ^^^^^^ the approaches, while some artillery 
Berezina qj^ ^]^q other side of the Berezina flanked the 
position ; the few cavalry, amounting to some 300 men 
under Fournier, were in rear of the left. 

On the 28th Wittgenstein's advanced guard drove in 
Victor's advanced posts from the village of Bitchi in the 
early morning, and at eight o'clock established themselves 
on the high ground facing the French. Russian rein- 
forcements continually arrived, and a force was sent 


round to turn Victor's left, whilst at the same time guns 
opened on his right and on the bridges and masses 
collected on the left bank near the point of crossing. 

These people — the sick, the wounded, the followers, 
including women and children, and the thousands of un- 
armed stragglers who had been wandering from camp 
fire to camp fire like gaunt spectres during the retreat — - 
rushed in tumultuous masses towards the bridges, mixed 
up with horses and vehicles. Segur describes the scene 
that ensued : " About midday the first shot from the 
enemy's batteries fell amid this chaotic mass. Then, as 
in all extreme circumstances, men's hearts were laid bare, 
and acts of the lowest infamy and of the sublimest heroism 
were exhibited. Some, with relentless fury, cut them- 
selves a dreadful passage, sword in hand. Others forced 
a still more cruel way with their carriages. They drove 
them mercilessly over the crowd of wretched beings 
whom they crushed in their course. With atrocious 
avarice they sacrificed their companions in misfortune to 
the preservation of their baggage." Hundreds were 
crushed on the bridges, and thousands perished in the 
ice-laden torrent that flowed below. 

" To complete the confusion and horror the bridge for 
the artillery cracked and broke. The column which was 
in the act of crossing this narrow passage tried in vain to 
retreat. The crowd which pressed on from behind, un- 
conscious of the disaster, and deaf to the cries of those 


before them, pushed forward and precipitated them into 
the chasm into which they were soon thrown in their 

" The whole stream was at length diverted to the other 
bridge. A number of large caissons, heavy carriages, and 
field-pieces flocked to it from all parts. Urged on by 
their drivers and carried rapidly down a frozen and rugged 
declivity, through the thick of this mass of human beings, 
they crushed the unfortunate wretches who happened to 
be caught between them ; then, meeting with a heavy 
shock, most of them were overturned with violence and 
knocked down all around them in their fall. Whole 
ranks of men driven in desperate terror by these con- 
flicting obstacles got entangled with them, were thrown 
down and crushed by other ranks who rushed on to the 
same fate in frightful and ceaseless succession." 

The same horrible struggle ensued at the other bridge. 

" Amid the fearful din made by the roar of a furious 
hurricane, the thunder of artillery, the whistling of the 
tempestuous wind, the hissing of bullets, the bursting 
of shells, the shouts, groans, and frightful imprecations 
of fierce and despairing men, this tumultuous mass 
heard not the wailings of the victims over whom it 

During the progress of this scene, the battle for the 
protection of the passage had waged fiercely on the heights 
above. The French cavalry beat back the attack on 


Victor's left, and a fierce counter attack on tlie Russian 
centre confirmed this success. Tlie Russian reserves 
came up and arrested tlie advance of the French, who had 
broken through their centre, while a fresh attack on his 
left obliged Victor to throw back that wing to cover 
Study anka and the approaches to the bridges. Still the 
French fought until dark against the great odds brought 
against them. The combat ceased after dark, and during 
the night Victor withdrew across the Berezina, leaving a 
small rearguard to cover the retreat of the remaining 
stragglers and baggage. He had lost half his force, but 
had inflicted great losses on the enemy, and had held 
his own throughout the day with remarkable skill and 

Meanwhile on the right bank of the Berezina Chichagov 
had advanced from Stakhov at dawn to attack the French 
who had crossed over. There Ney and Oudinot with 
8000 men, including 1500 cavalry, stood with their right 
towards the thick forest traversed by the Borisov road. 
Oudinot occupied the right and centre, and Ney the left 
wing of the position, which was about two versts in extent. 
In reserve stood the guard, 4000 strong, under the personal 
leadership of Napoleon. 

The Russian attack was badly carried out, and was 
preceded by the assumption of the offensive by Ney, who 
drove back the enemy's advanced guard. Oudinot was 
wounded early in the engagement, and Ney then assumed 


command of the whole line. A charge of the French 

cavalry under Dumerc resulted in great havoc and the 

capture of 1500 prisoners. Russian reinforcements then 

poured in, and the battle continued with unabated fury 

until nightfall, but the Russians were unable to gain a 

footing beyond Stakhov. 

Thus the remnant of Napoleon's Grand Army held its 

own against this combined attack on both banks of the 

Berezina. In the words of Segur, " Above sixty thousand 

men, well fed, well clothed, and completely unarmed, 

attacked eighteen thousand half-naked, ill-armed, 

famished men separated by a river, surrounded by 

morasses, and encumbered by more than fifty thousand 

stragglers, sick and wounded, and by an enormous mass 

of baggage. For two days the cold and misery were so 

intense that the Old Guard lost a third and the Young 

Guard one half of their effective men." On the right 

„ , , bank Ney had driven the Russians back on 

Repulse of "^ . 

Russians on Stakhov, and on the left Victor held the 

plateau of Studyanka and protected the 

bridges from Russian bayonets although he could not 

cover them from artillery fire. Victor's rearguard 

retired across the river in the early morning of the 

29th November, and at half-past eight the bridges 

were set on fire in rear of the retreating army. 

The losses of the Grand Army on the Berezina amounted 

probably to not less than 20,000 men, or about half the 


number that had reached the river under arms ; and in 
addition not less than 20,000 unarmed stragglers were 
captured or perished. 

Kutuzov with the main Russian army had crossed 
the Dnieper at Kopis on the 26th November. On 
the 29th he halted short of the Berezina, which he 
intended to cross at Zhukovetz, and some forty versts 
south-east of Borisov. Thus he found himself far from 
the decisive point at the decisive moment. 

It was not only the absence of his army, but the want 

of unity of command which it entailed that led to the 

Russian failure on the Berezina. There were 
Comments , . 

m the neighbourhood ample troops to have 

completed the destruction of the Grand Army, had their 
movements been methodically co-ordinated from the 
beginning. As it was, but for the loss of Partouneaux's 
division, the French operations were wonderfully success- 
ful, and the passage of the Berezina again proved the 
genius of the great commander, the skill and fortitude of 
his marshals and the valour of his troops. 

It is, however, only fair to the Russians to point out 
that they were not aware of the disorganised and famished 
condition of their opponents, while the presence of some 
50,000 unarmed men increased the appearance of strength 
of the army when viewed from a distance. Thus 
Ghichagov supposed that Napoleon was still at the head 
of 80,000 men when he arrived on the Berezina, and the 


moral efiect of the Emperor's presence was equivalent 
to another 80,000. 

Jomini points out that, with regard to Kutuzov's 
circumspection, it was most important for him to pre- 
serve the precious nucleus of his army, as the ulterior 
situation must in the event be influenced by political 
considerations ; and it was essential to Russia " to be in 
a position to decide Prussia and Austria to detach them- 
selves from the French alliance, or to resist them if they 
remained faithful to it." 

It may be said, on the other hand, that the destruction 
of the remainder of the Grand Army and the capture of 
the person of the French Emperor would have placed 
Russia in the strongest position both with regard to power 
and prestige to dictate terms to Europe, and a considera- 
tion of this factor seems to nullify the opinion of Jomini. 
Surely both political and military considerations should 
have dictated the advisability of terminating at one stroke 
by concentration of effort and resolution in execution, 
the existence of the Grand Army and the power of 

The passage of the Berezina where, says Segur, 

Napoleon succeeded in saving 60,000 out of 80,000 men, 

was accomplished mainly by the presence 

on the and the dispositions of the Emperor himself. 

" He stayed up to the last moment on these 

dismal banks, near the ruins of Brili, without shelter, 


and at the head of his Guard, a third part of whom had 
been destroyed by the storm ... at night they 
bivouacked in a square around their chief. . . . During 
these three days and nights, Napoleon, whose eye and 
whose thoughts appeared to wander from the midst of 
the faithful band in three directions at once, supported 
the second corps by his presence and by his orders, de- 
fended the ninth and the passage across the river by 
his artillery, and united his exertions to those of Eble 
in saving as much as possible from the general wreck. 
Lastly he directed the march of the remnant of his army, 
in person, towards Zembin, whither Prince Eugene had 
preceded him." 



Retreat from the Berezina — Napoleon leaves the Army — The 
Army reaches Vilna — Passage of the Niemen — Ney's Last 
Stand — Macdonald's Retreat — Schwarzenberg's Retirement 

Napoleon left tlie Berezina at six o'clock in tlie morning 
of the 29tli November, and drove through Zembin to 
Kamen, where he remained for the night with 
from the his Guard. The Viceroy and Davout reached 
Berezina piegi^chenitza ; Victor stopped at Zembin ; 
and Ney occupied a position short of that place on the 
same date. Only the forethought of Napoleon in sending 
on a force to open up the communications through this 
marshy country assured the safe retreat of the army. 

On the Eussian side Chichagov had sent a detachment 
towards Pleshchenitza on the 28th, and next day followed 
the retreating enemy, who had burnt the bridges behind 
them. The detachment nearly captured Oudinot at 
Pleshchenitza, having dispersed his escort, but the 
Marshal with seventeen men defended himself in a house, 
and held out until relieved by the arrival of two West- 
phalian battalions. Platov and Wittgenstein took up 
the pursuit by lines to the left and right of Chichagov 


respectively. Kutuzov himself moved slowly, and had 
not reached the Berezina on the 29th. He intended to 
direct his further advance across the Berezina at Zhu- 
kovetz, and thence through Smolevichy and Volozhin on 
Noviya Troki. Other detachments were to conform to 
the general movement. 

Napoleon, still hoping to halt his troops for a time 
on the road to Vilna, for reorganisation and rest, had 
directed Wrede, who was at Dokshitzi with the remains 
of the Bavarian corps, to move to Vileika to cover the 
crossing of the Vilia, collect supplies for the army, and 
open communication with the commandant of Smorgoni, 
who had been directed to provision the magazines in 
Smorgoni and Oshmiani. Supplies were to be sent to 
meet the retreating army, and the remaining cattle 
despatched to Vilna so that they should not fall into the 
hands of the Cossacks. 

But in a few days the army had practically ceased to 
exist. Few men remained in the ranks ; but on the 4th 
December Ney made a fine stand with the rearguard at 
the entrance to Molodechno, and, with the aid of the re- 
mains of Victor's corps, drove off Chichagov's advanced 

The Emperor now decided to leave the army, where 
his presence could no longer be of any use, but might 
even be a source of embarrassment. On the 4th 
December Victor wrote to the Chief-of-the-Staff : " The 


action wliicli the rearguard lias fought is the last efiort 

that it can make against our enemies ; the troops which 

-- , compose it are to-day so reduced and the few 

Napoleon . . 

leaves the that remain so miserable, that I am obliged 
to avoid every species of engagement. The 
enemy's vedettes and ours are in sight of one another ; I 
shall in all probability be followed to-day as persistently 
as yesterday, and I think it would be convenient for his 
Majesty to keep at a greater distance from us." 

Napoleon set out from Smorgoni on the 5th December, 
after handing over the command to Murat, and drove 
straight through to Vilna. As he himself said to Maret : 
" The army no longer exists ; a disorganised crowd, 
wandering in search of food and shelter, cannot be called 
an army." 

At dawn on the 8th December the Emperor crossed 
the Eussian frontier at Kovno, where he had arrived less 
than six months earlier at the head of 400,000 men. Two 
days later he reached Warsaw, and on the 19th December 
he arrived in Paris, two days after the appearance there 
of the famous 29th Bulletin, in which he announced the 
disastrous conclusion of his invasion of Russia. 

Napoleon has been blamed for leaving his army. But 
of what use was it for him to remain with the shattered 
remnant of his troops, to share their fate, to pass with 
them beneath " the Caudine Forks " ? Had he been 
only a general, the matter would have been different. 


But lie was tlie ruler of a great Empire, at tlie western 
end of wliicli the army of his most persistent enemies 
was contending for the mastery of the Peninsula. In 
Paris his presence was necessary to strengthen and even 
to secure his Government. Between him and France 
stretched 600 leagues of territory inhabited by peoples 
and ruled by monarchs whom he had humbled, ready 
on the first opportunity to rise against the Emperor 
of the West. Who but he would be able to gather to- 
gether in four months a new army of 300,000 men and 
600 guns with which to appear, once more terrible in 
battle, on the fields of Lutzen, Bautzen and Leipzig ? 

Meanwhile the debris of the Grand Army continued 
on its woeful way. The frost increased in intensity. In 

_, „ the three marches between Smorgoni and 

The Army ° 

reaches Vilna more than 20,000 men succumbed. The 

remainder, half dead with cold and hunger, 

a famished crowd, burst into Vilna on the 9th December. 

Provisions were ample, but the disorder was so great that 

they could not be distributed and the magazines had to 

be given up to pillage. Wittgenstein and Chichagov 

followed close upon their heels, but with greatly reduced 

forces. The former had only 15,000 men remaining. 

Ney, a rearguard in himself, held off the enemy where 

possible with incomparable valour. 

At length the Niemen was reached at Kovno, and, 

covered by Ney with a rearguard of 700 men, the 


shattered remnant of the mighty host that had crossed 

the river six months before in all the brave panoply of 

_ war, fled across the ice into the allied country 

Passage ^ 

of the that lay beyond. There were a thousand 

infantry and cavalry still armed, nine guns, 
and about 20,000 stragglers covered with rags, many 
of them wounded and frost-bitten. As many had re- 
mained behind in Vilna. 

On the 14th December Ney made his last stand at 
Kovno with the small garrison which he found there. 
Ney's Last He checked the Russian advance for a time. 
Stand " jje then," says Segur, " passed through 

Kovno and over the Niemen, fighting the whole of the 
way, never hastening into flight, always the last in the 
march, supporting to the very last moment the honour 
of our arms, and for the hundredth time in the course of 
forty days and forty nights, ready to sacrifice his own 
life and liberty to save a few more Frenchmen from the 
dreadful wreck. He at length quitted that fatal country, 
the last man of the G-rand Army to leave it, proving to the 
world that even Fortune herself is powerless against the 
energy of true valour, and that the genuine hero converts 
everything into glory, even the most serious and ac- 
cumulated disasters. He reached the allied bank at 
eight o'clock at night." 

Except for this example of the valour of one man, the 
retreat after the passage of the Berezina had been accom- 


plished presents notliing that is of military interest. 
Murat reached Konigsberg with a thousand men, followed 
by a few thousand stragglers. 

Macdonald's operations round Eiga had come to a 
standstill, and it was not until the 18th December that 
Macdonald's^^ received news of the events that had taken 
Retreat place, and orders to retire on Tilsit, where he 
arrived on the 28th. There he was deserted by the 
Prussians under Yorck, who on the 30th December con- 
cluded a convention with the Kussians under the terms 
of which he agreed to remain neutral for two months. 
Thus with his corps reduced to 9000 men, Macdonald 
continued his march to Konigsberg. 

It has been related that Schwarzenberg had advanced 

towards Minsk. On the 14th December he withdrew 

from Slonim to Byelostok, and a week later 
Schwarzen- . . 

berg's concluded an armistice, taking up a position 

to cover Warsaw, from which he did not 

retire until the end of January 1813. 



The failure of Napoleon's campaign of 1812 has been 
frequently and indeed generally ascribed to the early 
and excessive cold of the climate. Thus even the 
historian of the Peninsular War says that " when winter 
came only four days sooner than he expected, the giant's 
scheme became a theme for children's laughter ! " It 
is, however, a fact that the cold was neither earlier nor 
more severe than usual. Hard frosts did not set in until 
the 5th November ; there was a thaw for some days prior 
to the passage of the Berezina, and the cold did not 
become extreme until after that event. The rigours of 
the climate were no greater than in the campaign of 
Eylau, but in the latter there was no want of provisions, 
of transport, and of shelter, and the army did not become 

The primary cause of failure is expressed in Montaigne's 
maxim : " Great and distant enterprises perish from the 
very magnitude of the preparations made to ensure their 
success." The vastness of the distances, the numbers 
of the army bringing in its train diflS.culties of supply and 
p 225 


transport requisite for its maintenance, the long-drawn- 
out line of communications — these combined to render 
success unattainable. Napoleon undertook the im- 
possible ; not even Ms genius could overcome the diffi- 
culties encountered, or find a remedy for the " strategic 
consumption " of his army inseparable from the ever- 
lengthening line of communications from the Vistula to 

Viewing Europe as a whole, we find the French 
Emperor engaged in war in two directions, both 
east and west, which rendered concentration of efiort 

Many causes of failure have already been indicated 
in these pages. They may conveniently be recapitulated. 
Unforeseen factors, the Turkish peace and the Swedish 
alliance, influenced the situation after the opening of the 
campaign. Political errors and omissions were the cause 
of these disadvantages, and if they were not expected and 
provided for, as appears to have been the case, the cam- 
paign should not have been undertaken without measures 
to meet them. They resulted in the freedom of two 
armies to operate on the flanks of the advance. 

The Grand Army was half composed of foreigners ; 
and as a consequence neither a high standard of discipline 
nor whole-hearted devotion could be expected. Disorder 
manifested itself as soon as Russian territory was entered. 
People of twenty nations might gain victory under such 


a leader, but were bound to lose cohesion and discipline 
under the vicissitudes of failure. This polyglot com- 
position was a primary cause of a great army dissolving 
into bands of marauders. 

I mm ense difficulties of supply and transport were met 
with. Depots were established at too great a distance 
from the army, at Dantzig and Konigsberg. The roads 
and rivers were covered with supplies, but they could not 
be brought up to the troops. The country provided little, 
and the want of forage in particular led to immense loss 
in transport animals and cattle, as well as in cavalry and 
artillery horses. 

It has been said by some writers that the campaign 
might have opened six weeks earlier, but it was necessary 
to wait for grazing for the animals, which would not have 
been sooner available. Moreover, as it was, Napoleon had 
ample time to retreat before winter set in, had he not 
lingered in Moscow ; so this cannot be indicated as a cause 
of failure. 

The Emperor lingered too long in Vilna, and it certainly 
seems that the junction of Barclay and Bagration at 
Smolensk should have been prevented by the destruction 
of one or the other. The golden moment for vigorous 
and resolute action against one of the enemy's separated 
wings was lost. Bagration escaped when he should have 
been crushed, and full advantage was not taken of the 
Russian strategical error in retiring on the Drissa camp. 


A swift advance miglit have thrown Barclay back upon 
the Baltic. 

The fine turning movement that brought the Grand 
Army to Smolensk failed to produce the results expected 
for reasons that have been detailed. Napoleon might 
have contented himself with the occupation of the line 
of the Dnieper in 1812, and deferred a further advance 
until the following spring. He had considered this plan ; 
but it was impossible to subsist the army in a depopulated 
and devastated country. He had either to advance or 
retrace his steps ; his prestige throughout Europe and 
the necessity of its maintenance rendered it impossible 
for him to acknowledge failure by a retrograde movement. 
Lithuania afforded no resources, all supplies having 
already been requisitioned by the Russians. 

There was no general rising of the Poles such as had 
been anticipated, as Napoleon did not fulfil their expecta- 
tions. But he had to consider that the re-establishment 
of a kingdom of Poland would in all probability have 
alienated Austria, whose co-operation, or at least 
neutrality, was indispensable to him during this campaign. 

The troops of Macdonald, Oudinot, St Cyr and Victor 
on the line of communications should have been under 
one commander. They might then have crushed Witt- 
genstein and have been of more assistance in the retreat. 

Napoleon had hoped for a decisive battle west of the 
Dwina. In this hope he was disappointed by the con- 


tinned retreat of the Russians. But when finally they 
stood for battle at Borodino, his tactics were not of the 
type that had gained him the victory at Austerlitz and 
Jena. Nor was the battle followed up by a swift pursuit 
of the exhausted enemy, who was allowed to retire on 
Moscow, and pass through that capital without molesta- 
tion and place himself in an advantageous position to 
threaten the extended line of communications. 

The character of the Russian Tzar and the resistance 
offered by his people deceived the expectations of the 
invader, who remained in Moscow vainly hoping for the 
opening of negotiations which could not be expected in 
view of the strategic situation of the opposing forces. 

When the retreat from Moscow was undertaken, the 
project of retiring by the Kaluga road was not pushed 
through with the Emperor's customary resolution ; a 
week was thus lost and the selection of the eventual line 
of retreat to Smolensk led the army through an already 
exhausted country. 

The retirement of Schwarzenberg towards Warsaw 
instead of Minsk exposed the flank of the retreating army. 
When retreat had been decided upon a concentration of 
all troops, including those of Macdonald and Schwarzen- 
berg, towards the Berezina should have been arranged for. 
As it was, the separate parts of the army were all exposed 
to defeat in detail. 

Many writers have tried to ascribe the failure of 


Napoleon entirely to bad fortune, and have belittled tbe 
operations of the Russians to the extent of denying that 
they had any influence whatever on the destruction of the 
Grand Army. As Jomini says, to such writers " only the 
manna of the desert and the waves of the Red Sea were 
wanting to make the God of battles work miracles in 
favour of his enemies." But to belittle his enemies is 
not the way to exalt the genius of the great captain. 
Nor is such a course just in this instance. The Grand 
Army was opposed by brave troops under able and 
devoted leaders. 

In this campaign the genius of Napoleon is no less 
in evidence than in his previous undertakings, although 
we may see faulty execution in the details of the opera- 
tions. There was no blind plunge into the depths of a 
half -barbarous and inhospitable country. But the vast- 
ness of the distances, of his masses of troops, of his pre- 
parations rendered the task impossible of human attain- 
ment. In their conception and initiation the grandeur 
of his projects is comparable with his most successful 

Nor were the operations of the Russians in their wider 
aspects wanting in skill both in conception and execution. 
Their initial dispositions as well as their retirement on 
divergent lines were faulty, but the concentration at 
Smolensk of their separated wings was a masterly move- 
ment. Their avoidance of battle until the invaders had 


been reduced in strength by tbe length of their march may- 
be commended, as well as the change in the direction of 
retreat after the fall of Moscow. Wittgenstein exhibited 
all the qualities of a great commander, and contributed 
largely to the destruction of the enemy by the manner 
in which, with inferior forces, he maintained himself on 
the Dwina and kept the left wing of the French engaged 
throughout the campaign. 

In following up the retreating enemy, Kutuzov no 
doubt failed in resolution, in energy and in the adoption 
of a strong offensive. But it was a fine combination 
which brought about the general Russian concentration 
on the line of retreat from Moscow, and of large Russian 
forces on the decisive point and at the decisive moment 
at the passage of the Berezina. Had it not been for 
failure in execution on the part of Chichagov, the French 
must have been totally destroyed by that great strategic 




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